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What’s the Big Deal About CHIO Aachen?

Photo courtesy of CHIO Aachen/Andreas Steindl.

CHIO Aachen is a little bit of an odd duck on the international eventing calendar. The eventing competition is a 4*-S — not even a 4*-L — and a team competition but not part of the FEI Nations Cup. Yet it commands a great amount of attention and importance.

Nestled near the juncture where Germany meets the Netherlands and Belgium, Aachen first held a horse show in 1924 and has hosted a show nearly every year since. After hosting the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games, Aachen continued holding vibrant team competitions annually in eventing, show jumping, dressage, combined driving and vaulting. Known appropriately as the World Equestrian Festival, Aachen attracts more than 350,000 spectators across 10 thrilling days of competition.

For pure show jumping and dressage, Aachen is considered the most prestigious horse show in Europe. For eventing, the CCIO4*-S at Aachen is considered to be the closest event to a true championship outside of the Olympics and WEG. Show jumping is held in the colossal Hauptstadion, which seats 40,000 people and is about twice the size of the main stadium at the Kentucky Horse Park. The cross country course ends in the main stadium in front of packed stands and an exuberant crowd.

While technically a CCI4*-S track, Rüdiger Schwarz’s twisting, technical cross country course would better be described as more of a 7-minute championship course. The top teams in the world send their best horses to Aachen for a reason: It takes an extremely strong performance across all three phases to be competitive at this venue.

Case in point: Take a look at the last six winners of the event, all German and all eventual five-star winners and/or European or world champions.

2014 – Sandra Auffarth and Opgun Louvo
2015 – Ingrid Klimke and SAP Escada FRH
2016 – Michael Jung and fischerTakinou
2017 – Ingrid Klimke and SAP Hale Bob OLD
2018 – Julia Krajewski and Chipmunk FRH
2019 – Ingrid Klimke and SAP Hale Bob OLD

Ingrid Klimke and SAP Escada FRH, winners of Aachen 2015. Photo by Jenni Autry.

While the vast majority of powerhouse eventing nations have sent teams annually to Aachen since the venue first started hosting a CICO3* in 2007, the U.S. did not send a team until 2013. David O’Connor, who coached the U.S. team at the time, corrected this oversight, as he rightly realized Aachen’s value as the closest simulation to a true championship the U.S. can experience apart from the Olympics and WEG.

Tiana Coudray and Ringwood Magister at Aachen 2013. It absolutely poured during cross country day that year. Photo by Jenni Autry.

The U.S. team’s relationship with Aachen had a rather inauspicious start. The first team sent in 2013 — made up of Tiana Coudray and Ringwood MagisterClark Montgomery and UniverseMarilyn Little and RF Smoke on the Water, and Will Faudree and Pawlow — was the only team not to complete that year. Tiana and Ringwood Magister finished 10th as the highest placed U.S. pair, with Clark and Universe finishing 35th as the only other pair on the team to complete.

The U.S. did not send a team to Aachen in 2014 due to resources being allocated to WEG that year. Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen competed as individuals but were eliminated on cross country.

The following year in 2015 saw a full U.S. team return to Aachen with a much more positive result. While Colleen Rutledge and Covert Rights were eliminated on cross country, three of the four team members completed. Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Cubalawn led the way for the team in 12th place, with Lauren Kieffer finishing 15th aboard Veronica.

Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Cubalawn at Aachen 2015. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Lynn Symansky and Donner picked up 20 jumping penalties on cross country, but still delivered what proved to be an important counting score for the team. When Britain’s Holly Woodhead and DHI Lupison were ultimately eliminated due to missing a flag, the British team lost their spot on the podium, with the U.S. team boosted up to finish in third place.

Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot at Aachen 2016. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

In 2016 the U.S. returned with a team hoping to once again top the podium, but things did not go to plan. Hannah Sue Burnett and Harbour Pilot and Phillip Dutton and Indian Mill both delivered clear cross country rounds for the team to finish 11th and 17th, respectively. But Lauren Kieffer and Landmark’s Monte Carlo and Matt Brown and Super Socks BCF both added 20 jumping penalties, which resulted in the team finishing sixth. This is the only year in which all four U.S. team riders completed.

In 2017, the U.S. did not send a full team. Hannah Sue Burnett and RF Demeter represented the U.S. as individuals and delivered the best American result at Aachen to date, finishing in seventh individually. Lauren Kieffer and Veronica also represented the U.S. as individuals but were eliminated on cross country.

Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border at Aachen 2018. Photo by Jenni Autry.

In 2018, Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border and Buck Davidson and Carlevo jumped clear cross country rounds, albeit with double-digit time penalties, to finish 21st and 23rd, respectively. Lauren Kieffer and Landmark’s Monte Carlo were close to their minute markers when they picked up 20 jumping penalties at the second water complex. Will Coleman and OBOS O’Reilly were eliminated on refusals.

Caroline Martin and Islandwood Captain Jack in 2019. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

In 2019, a slip on the flat at the end of the course brought Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z‘s day to an early finish; Phillip Dutton and suffered a dramatic parting of company while tackling the corner in the water; and Caroline Martin, making her Aachen debut with Islandwood Captain Jack, finished 21st.

The event was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and was postponed from July to September this year.

The U.S. has now sent teams to Aachen on five different occasions. Three of those five teams completed and delivered a third-place podium finish in 2015, sixth-place finish in 2016 and fourth-place finish in 2018. A U.S. team has yet to deliver three counting scores without cross country jumping penalties at Aachen.

Can they turn it around in 2021?

The U.S. team:

  • Will Coleman and Off The Record, a 2009 Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by the Off the Record Syndicate
  • Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire,  a 2010 Oldenburg gelding owned by Carol Stephens
  • Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan, a 2009 Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Annie Eldridge
  • Tamie Smith and Mai Baum, a 2006 German Sport Horse gelding owned by Alexandra Ahearn, Ellen Ahearn, and Eric Markell

Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus are competing as individuals.

As U.S. Chef d’Equipe Erik Duvander explained to EN in 2018, “Aachen is important to me because it’s the only time you can practice a real team championship feeling. It’s quite unique. If we want to be competitive, we need to have our team well planned ahead, and we need to target certain combinations for the right reasons.”

The caliber of the competition provides the U.S. an opportunity to not just play for a participation ribbon, but play to win.

“We also need to have more self belief so that our riders ride forward distances on the cross country and don’t play it a little bit too safe by adding a stride. It is a trick to get around this course if you want to win, which I also think is very possible for us, but you have to really understand what you are dealing with,” Erik said.

“The cross country is very specific here. It rides faster than anywhere else. It’s turning and very technical at a four-star level — not size-wise, but when you put speed on it, even the best riders make mistakes. Our riders need to understand how to prepare for a course like this.”

This year’s team has all the pieces in place to put Team USA on the podium in Aachen. Best of luck to all!

CHIO Aachen CCIO4*-S: [Website] [Schedule and Scoring] [Entries] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

Nonprofit Spotlight: Renew Therapeutic Riding Center

Eventing Nation was pleased to support two equestrian nonprofits with proceeds from the sale of our Ultimate Form Guide to the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. Thanks to the nominations of some of EN’s readers, we were able to make a donation to both Renew Therapeutic Riding Center in Michigan as well as to Freedom Reigns Ranch in Tennessee. Each program will also receive complementary advertising on Eventing Nation through the month of July. We’re proud to support the efforts of programs such as these to bring horses to underserved and underprivileged communities.

Renew Therapeutic Riding Center, nestled on a 20 acre horse farm in southwestern Michigan, seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals in our community through the physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits of therapeutic horsemanship. At Renew, each rider has the opportunity to go beyond their disability, inability, fear, or reality. We encourage and support dreams by offering equine assisted services to fulfill our mission, striving to help riders develop their maximum potential in a caring and fun environment that empowers the rider in ways different from traditional therapy. Our equine partners and tremendous volunteers are essential to the life-transforming work taking place for the nearly 100 students that come to Renew on a weekly basis.

Take a look at some of the work Renew Therapeutic Riding Center is doing:

Want to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others? We are seeking volunteers to work directly with our…

Posted by Renew Therapeutic Riding Center on Thursday, June 10, 2021

To learn more and to get involved with Renew Therapeutic Riding Center, click here or visit them on Facebook.

Nonprofit Spotlight: Freedom Reigns Ranch

Eventing Nation was pleased to support two equestrian nonprofits with proceeds from the sale of our Ultimate Form Guide to the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. Thanks to the nominations of some of EN’s readers, we were able to make a donation to both Renew Therapeutic Riding Center in Michigan as well as to Freedom Reigns Ranch in Tennessee. Each program will also receive complementary advertising on Eventing Nation through the month of July. We’re proud to support the efforts of programs such as these to bring horses to underserved and underprivileged communities.

It’s not hard to feel welcomed when you walk up to the gate at Freedom Reigns Ranch, as horses whinny in your direction and people greet you like they’ve known you your whole life. In fact, it may be a little unsettling to be SO welcomed, seen, and loved – this type of true and genuine hospitality without motive is rare to find in today’s society. You’d never know that both the horses, and many of the individuals greeting you have seen some of the worst humanity has to offer.

How It All Started

For Freedom Reigns Ranch there are two primary avenues of redemption: the first, and at the heart, is the mentorship aspect of their organization. One child, one horse, one leader… 100% of the time. The Ranch’s one-on-one session program is where it all started.

That being said, the initial “Ranch” didn’t look like much of a program. It was simply troubled youth, coming and spending time with the founder’s only horse, and a friend or two that were considered “volunteers”.

“The first ‘session’”, founder Carissa Ramsdell says while making air quotes with her hands, “was simply a neighborhood girl coming across the street.” She had access to horses at her godparent’s house but was drawn to Boston, Ramsdell’s only horse, who she was competing in local eventing shows at the time. Boston is an Arabian-Thoroughbred cross, a breed of horse known for being highly spirited, opinionated, intelligent and certainly not the kind that you’d suspect could be trusted with children!

“She had seen some very challenging things in her home life and was spending the summer with her godparents. At four years old, extremely shy, without words she’d ask to ride Boston by sheepishly pointing up while keeping her expression to the ground. I was hesitant, knowing Boston’s tendencies to be a hot and sensitive horse, but it soon became obvious that he was an entirely different horse around this little girl. The moment I knew God was up to something special was when she was spending time with him in the cross ties and went up to kiss his nose with her hands on each side of his nostrils!” Ramsdell recalls with an excited tone. “Boston was an expert at snapping halters and breaking free, especially if he felt crowded around his face. Instead of recoiling, he reached down and allowed her to fully embrace him. Something he would have NEVER done with me. I was admittedly a bit jealous,” she says with a laugh. “That was the moment I knew God’s plan was to do something more with Boston and with my life.”

How It Grew

Like a stampede gaining momentum as it goes on, this idea of using horses to help bring healing to people accelerated at an incredible rate. The first donated pony came in while recovering from a severe injury and was followed by the first rescued horse. More friends wanting to help that turned into the first Volunteers, more requests started coming in from friends, from churches, and then from organizations who found out about how God was helping heal hearts through His incredible creation and the gentleness of a horse. And all at once the stampede began involving the community and took off. There was a huge need for a program. In 2016 Freedom Reigns Ranch was designated as a 501c3 organization.

How It’s Going

Freedom Reigns Ranch has always been and will always be completely free-of-charge to anyone who comes. In this, the opportunity for anyone to come, regardless of financial means, is always open. Being free-of-charge gives access to anyone to benefit from the ways a relationship with a horse enhances our lives.

In it’s early days, Freedom Reigns Ranch only had the capacity with horses and volunteers to offer the one-on-one model. Though it was very successful, Ramsdell knew from her own experience that the greatest healing for those who have been wounded by people happen in community… when people learn to feel safe around others again. Through that knowledge, Junior Ranchers was born.

Junior Ranchers further builds on the healing attained in the one-on-one Session Program and adds to the participant’s peer community. The program is designed for ages 9-21 with groups broken up by gender, age, and life experience. Each Junior Rancher commits to one full season together. Activities focus on basic natural horsemanship education, developing riding skills and learning basic hands-on veterinary care, communication development, leadership equipping, and Ranch stewardship. The program goal is to grow confident and servant-hearted young leaders.

Image courtesy of Freedom Reigns Ranch.

Equine Rescue

The second avenue of redemption is assisting rescues by being a foster home for horses as they are in rehabilitation. “We’re fortunately, or unfortunately, really good at rehabilitating the emaciated horses or working with the challenging horses,” says Carissa. Freedom Reigns Ranch is currently small in scale on the rescue and rehab front, assisting in about a half-a-dozen cases each year. It’s hard work when you are feeding every two hours around the clock for starvation rescues, keeping custody care logs and documentation for law enforcement cases, treating wounds and injuries, and still maintaining the regular work.

But that work doesn’t just fall on volunteers; the Program Participants have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in rehabilitating fosters which is a valuable component to their own healing. “It’s important for people, especially those working through their own past hurts and trauma, to realize that they always have something to give… in a way only God does, I believe He takes one broken life and another broken life and in the process of helping each other they both become whole. That’s redemption.”

As of January 2021, Freedom Reigns Ranch has provided over 6,400 hours of mentorship completely free-of-charge and is slated to provide approximately 3,000 hours in 2021. They currently lease an 8 acre farm with 8 full time session horses and 1 foster horse in Thompsons Station, Tennessee (40 minutes south of Nashville) with the hopes to raise the funds necessary to purchase an identified 38 acre equestrian facility near the center of town later this year.

To learn more about Freedom Reigns Ranch, to volunteer, to give, or to apply for the session programs visit their website: www.freedomreignsranch.com

On Social Media (Instagram, Facebook): @FreedomReignsRanch

Sneak Peek: Look Inside Jim Wofford’s Forthcoming Autobiography, ‘Still Horse Crazy After All These Years’

In this sneak peek excerpt from his autobiography “Still Horse Crazy After All These Years”, three-time Olympian Jim Wofford talks about that time he came back from retirement to win Kentucky. “Still Horse Crazy After All These Years” is coming in May and is available for pre-order now.

Jim Wofford competing with The Optimist at Kentucky in 1986.

Me, the Optimist

I got a call from Diana and Bert Firestone in the fall of 1985. Karen O’Connor (née Lende) was named to the 1986 World Championship team that would compete in Australia. Because the seasons below the equator are reversed, the Championship would take place in the spring, which meant Karen could not ride their horse, The Optimist, at Kentucky. Would I like the ride? With a recent Bill Steinkraus comment about getting better after retirement in the back of my mind, I didn’t give it much thought before I said, “Yes”.

Purchased by the Firestones as a ride for their son, Matthew, The Optimist (“Bill”) had turned out to be spectacularly unsuitable in that role. Matt was quite strong, but fairly short, and Bill was an enormous bull of a horse. I had been watching him go for a year or so and had always secretly liked him, even as I watched him run away with a succession of riders. I have a soft spot in my heart for 16.3-hand mealy-nosed brown geldings from Ireland, but at first glance it was hard to have a soft spot for Bill. He was unattractive: plain bay with no markings, slightly lop-eared, Roman-nosed, and pig-eyed, with a dull expression. He had a thick neck, massive shoulders, and powerful hindquarters. At first glance, in other words, he was the epitome of a thug.

The Firestones had several additional horses in training with Karen at Fox Covert, and I was fortunate that Bill’s groom, Janice Hilton, came with him. Janice was extremely knowledgeable, having worked for Lorna Sutherland Clarke in England before emigrating. She told me that if we got to Kentucky, it would be the one-hundredth Classic event she had worked at. (She didn’t tell me until much later that in all that time, she had never groomed a winner.)

Much to my surprise, within a couple of weeks of starting to ride Bill in January, I was thoroughly demoralized. No matter what I tried, we were not on the same wavelength, and I could tell we would not be successful if this trend continued. He resisted my efforts to get him on the bit and charged every obstacle in his path with a frighteningly powerful rush. After I had ridden him early one Saturday morning, once again with a signal lack of progress, I handed him over to Janice and went to teach some lessons in my indoor arena.

Bill, I See You!

Bill’s stall was next to the arena, and I had already noticed that he would hang over his stall webbing and watch my lessons. He focused his attention on the activity, and if I raised my voice, he lifted his head and pricked his outsized ears until the arena settled down. On this day, Janice returned him to his stall, and he audited the rest of my lesson until I finished. Then he turned his attention to his hay.

I didn’t realize it at that moment, but when I stepped from the arena into the barn aisle that day, I was stepping into the shadow of the rainbow once again. Bill heard my footstep outside his stall, and when he raised his head and looked at me, he looked directly into my eyes. His ears were up, his visage was attentive, and his eyes glowed with recognition and intelligence. Startled, I looked back at him—but suddenly it was as if his face were melting. In a flash his eyes were dull, his ears at half-mast, and he had assumed his normal lack of expression.

Laughing, I pointed at him and said, “Too late, Bill, I saw you!”

I suddenly realized that I had completely misunderstood Bill. He didn’t misbehave because he was stupid; he misbehaved because he was smart. (I did tell you he was Irish, didn’t I?) Bill did not need his rider to tell him what to do, or even worse, to try to make him do it. Bill knew his job; he wanted his rider to remember the test or the course—and leave the rest to Bill. If the rider tried to make Bill do something, he was just as happy fighting with the rider as fighting with the course. After all, as strong and athletic as Bill was, the jumping was not a challenge—and anyway, he didn’t care about dressage one way or another. But if a rider challenged Bill by leaving it up to him, Bill would respond.

Armed with new insight, I changed my approach, and Bill changed his way of going. I don’t mean that things were perfect after that, but we showed regular improvement. However, Bill wasn’t done teaching me new things. I’d already had my nose rubbed into the mistake of judging a horse by appearance. Now Bill taught me not to get tunnel vision when training event horses.

You can imagine that my morale improved after we won our first competition together, a nice Intermediate warm-up event in North Carolina. I had always done as little competing as possible when training Classic horses. Our cross-country and show jumping were nowhere near as technical then as in events today. I used my Classic preparatory events as a general fitness checkup and made sure my technical work was showing improvement. With only one more horse trials left before Kentucky, at Ship’s Quarters in Maryland, I felt pretty good about our chances. Our dressage work needed continual improvement, but that was no surprise. However, at our initial outing, it was apparent that our show jumping needed work. I had been lucky to leave the fences up. Even though the course had been slightly small and relatively easy, Bill had towed me around at a high rate of speed. This would not suit a big-time event.

While my conditioning plan was working, and my dressage improvement was slight but steady, I changed my show-jumping approach. I did a lot of jump-and-walk, jump-and-stop exercises, and worked on combinations with tight distances. Because I set these new problems and left them for Bill to solve, I thought I was happy with things by the time we got to our last “prep” events; it just goes to show you how wrong a fellow can be.

At Ship’s Quarters, traditionally the last event before Kentucky, everything was maximum but straightforward, not technical. It was just the right type of challenge to set horses and riders up for a Classic. I was already patting myself on the back halfway through my show-jumping course, thinking about how much better Bill was going. Then I turned into the triple combination. Set at maximum heights and spreads, it was a vertical, one stride to a maximum oxer, then two strides to another maximum oxer. I cantered quietly to the first element, Bill jumped it off a nice stride, and when I landed, what do you think I said to myself?

“Uh oh.”

I suddenly realized that I had practiced shortening Bill’s stride, but to the exclusion of increasing his stride. Long story short, I couldn’t get there from here. The only thing good to come from that particular in-and-out is that I learned not to have tunnel vision when training horses. Putting in two strides in a one-stride, three strides in a two-stride, and crashing through two maximum oxers will get a trainer’s attention. Bill’s courage and strength got me out of that scrape, but only just. Unlike my first outing with Bill, where I had won easily, I drove home in a bad mood with a lot on my mind.

My training from then until Kentucky emphasized flexibility, not just long or short. It must have worked, as I wound up winning Kentucky for the second time. Bill was not too far out of the lead after dressage, jumped clean and fast cross-country, and was in second place, less than a rail out of first, going into the show jumping. This was nerve-racking, as Bill was notorious for his casual attitude toward painted rails. However, I persuaded him to leave all the rails up, and once the rider ahead of me knocked down a rail they could not afford, I wound up a winner at my final Classic. After the disappointing finish to my Olympic aspirations two years earlier, this time I could retire on top. When I walked out of the arena following the victory gallop, I felt as if the eventing gods had reached down, patted me on the head, and said, “There, there. You were hugely disappointed not to go to Los Angeles. Now we gave you a big win, but it’s time you retired again, this time for good. Don’t push your luck.”

That was good advice, and I took it.

This excerpt from “Still Horse Crazy After All These Years” by Jim Wofford is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.HorseandRiderBooks.com). Pre-order your copy here.

Letter from the Editors: February 2021

As co-editors Leslie Wylie and Sally Spickard discussed Eventing Nation’s goals for the upcoming year, we wanted to make a conscious effort to connect more with the readers who take time to read our content each day. To that end, we’re pleased to offer our reflections on the year behind and ahead of us. Do you have an editorial you’d like to share with EN? You can send your Letter to EN to [email protected].

Sally Spickard

It’s a weird year to be closely involved with a sport that works like a large clock around the ticking cycle of the Olympics and World Equestrian Games. With the pandemic disrupting last year’s Olympics – and, potentially, this year’s – it leaves a lot of us with questions on the future of the sport.

“The future” is hardly a new conversation; as with anything, we deal with the constant of change and the evolution of our sport as the society around it shifts on a daily basis. But the very real threat of losing five-star events and even the Olympic Games poses a lot of questions.

This has prompted me to turn to look at the rest of the sport even more closely than I did before. After all, the amateur rider makes up the vast majority of all equestrian endeavors. As the sport at its highest levels sorts out its future, how can we also expand this majority market to be larger, more financially sustainable, and a better foundation of support for the riders at the top?

There are two focuses in terms of the function of the sport’s foundation. On one hand, you have the high performance program, the tip of the pyramid if you will. These are the riders on the Wheaties boxes, the faces of our sport. Their success is crucial for the survival of the sport; their names and likenesses bring in sponsor support and general recognition. The function of the foundational support, for this purpose, is to source and produce new generations of talent to keep the team on a competitive level. The functionality of the Eventing Pathway Program and its evolution under USEF Managing Director of Eventing Jenni Autry is proof that the net being cast is becoming wider.

But then there is another function of the foundation, and this function really has little or nothing to do with the tip of the pyramid, save perhaps from a financial support standpoint. It’s the foundation made up of riders who don’t aspire to reach the Olympics or the Advanced level – or even an “upper level”, period. It’s the riders who love to compete a handful of times each year, as their budget and work schedule allows, those who circle the American Eventing Championships as their career goal. And it’s my opinion that it’s often these riders who are the most forgotten, the most infrequently seen, and the least supported.

So how do we marry these functions? How can we bolster the ranks of the amateurs not only for the benefit and support of the top levels (which are fully necessary and highly valuable) but also to offer them the best possible system? How can we welcome more riders into our sport to discover their passion for partnership with a horse? Not only does this increase the pool of talent for the top, it also creates a stronger foundational base of dedicated amateurs. How do we evolve to become more efficient in our business model as a sport so as to ensure its lasting viability? How do we keep from pricing out those who would join us if it weren’t for financial limitations? How do we protect the most vulnerable among us? And how to we ensure that every rider has a seat at the table, and a voice to be heard?

These are topics that are very near and dear to me, and I plan to dive into them in more depth this year. I certainly don’t know the answers, but I’m willing to learn and I know our sport is worth it. Watching the likes of Gina Miles, Karen O’Connor, Ingrid Klimke gallop effortlessly around the most difficult courses in the world sucked me in; jumping my first cross country fence without fear years later solidified my love for the sport. It is my hope that we can continue to work toward a more sustainable, more accessible world that benefits all riders and builds a future for the sport we all love so much.

Thanks for riding along with us.

Sally

Leslie Wylie

February 2021 feels a different planet than February 2020, doesn’t it? This month last year I was jetting off to Wellyworld for the eventing showcase, cheering with the crowd as horses raced around beneath the sunshine and palm trees, hugging folks with abandon, blissfully unaware that just a month later our season would come to a screeching halt. We adapted, though, and while lots of things are still up in the air at least it feels like there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I took my mother-in-law and grandmother in for their vaccinations last week. Until then I hadn’t realized how much constant anxiety I’d been carrying around with me, worrying about them getting sick, until I was finally able to take a breath and let a little bit go.

In this weird year we’ve had a bit of extra time to tend to gardens that need to be tending to, and one of EN’s weediest flowerbeds is its classifieds site Sport Horse Nation. It looks exactly the same now as it did when a pimply-face baby CEO named John designed it in his mom’s basement 11 years ago. Yet it’s still somehow THE place to buy and sell event horses (testimonial, I found my midlife crisis sportspony Princess on SHN). These nice fancy horses deserve better than some crappy WordPress blog, so we’re giving them a brand new completely redesigned website –coming soon! Thanks to our Patreons who shared feedback for the redesign; I was able to integrate a bunch of it. Honestly, the equine marketplace is in dire need of reform, and our goal is to create a radically transparent space for buyers and sellers alike. All Patreons will receive a coupon code for a free ad ($75 value) AND they’ll be the first to get the gate code, so all the more reason to join the club!

Other than that … the snowbirds are already flapping their wings down in Aiken and Ocala. The first two Advanced horse trials of the year, Rocking Horse II (Feb. 18-21) and Pine Top Winter II (Feb. 26-28), and Twin Rivers Winter (Feb. 25-28) are this season’s upper-level appetizers — loaded potato skins, truly, is how I like to imagine them. Maybe fried mozzarella sticks.

Honestly I’m just glad to have 2020 behind us, and I’m really excited about our new Patreon (one day left to score a sign-up before Feb. 14 at ANY tier and receive an EN Yeti mug or wine tumbler!) I’m already loving the lively conversations taking place in our invite-only Facebook group and the breadth of experiences you guys are bringing to the table. Now more than ever, it’s a relief to have a friendly, safe space where you can kick it with friends, even if we’re separated by computer screens. Community is what sets eventing apart, and I’m so honored to be a part of it with you.

Now more than ever, go eventing!
Leslie

Optimum Youth Equestrian Scholarship: Meet Erin Oquindo + Applications Close January 15

We’re thrilled that the team behind the Optimum Youth Equestrian Scholarship have allowed Eventing Nation to share some of the applicant essays from the first round. Applications for the next funding round are open through Friday, January 15, so be sure to submit yours before it’s too late! The Optimum Youth Equestrian Scholarship is designed to bring more opportunities to young equestrians who are in need of financial assistance in an effort to continue to break barriers of access. You can read other essays and learn more about OYES here. In this essay, meet Erin Oquindo.

Photo courtesy of Erin Oquindo.

When I was a little kid, my mom and I would drive the 3-hours to Dickson, TN to pick up my half-brothers from their father’s farm, where they worked and lived on the weekends. Even though my mom was a barrel racer for years, she couldn’t stop my eyes from wandering to the various jumping rings we would pass on that long road to Dickson. So that’s how I initially became obsessed with it and started consuming all sorts of equestrian media from the books in my school’s library to taking hand-me-down Breyer horses from a family friend. After I started taking lessons at 7 years old, I was hooked.

I was fortunate enough to get a pony when I was about 10, which my parents and I paid for by all three working in various capacities for my riding instructor—I worked as a camp counselor and groom while my parents managed all the media and photography work in exchange for my pony’s board. Later on, I ended up taking a 5-year hiatus from riding, for most of my high school career and the first half of my undergraduate career—the space got too competitive, too expensive, and too white for me to comfortably continue. My junior year of college, I joined my university’s club IHSA team but dropped out a year later for financial reasons.

Now, I am trying to rebuild my life in the equestrian world with a monthly half lease on a horse named Mozart (also known as Mo, Bobo, Bubba, Boombah, etc.) and a great, understanding trainer who is helping me work through a lot of my emotional and physical pain points when it comes to riding. I ride a bit less than once a week now and it is my current goal to get to a financial, physical, and social place to go to the barn more and for longer, so I can really immerse myself and learn.

I’ll be honest—I am not looking to be the next Grand Prix rider or Boyd Martin or whoever (the vast majority of these folks are white cis people anyway and I could never see myself among them). I am not interested in showing extensively at the upper levels in that way. As my long-term equestrian dream, I simply want to one day get to a place in my life where I own and regularly ride a horse, grow in my skill and strength, and can dedicate myself to horseback riding as my primary activity outside my career. I would entertain it being a part of my career, but I just feel like I haven’t had the proper exposure to the horse world to really tell me whether or not that’s the path for me.

In the short term, I currently have the opportunity to ride the same trained horse consistently, and that’s the first time I’ve ever been able to do something other than ride various lesson ponies. I would love to spend more time getting to know him, building up my muscle and confidence, and advancing to the level I know I have the potential to reach if I were able to ride more and be at the barn more.

If you had asked me about obstacles to riding a year ago, I maybe would have answered simply with the financial struggles I’ve gone through and the few bouts with racist folks I’ve encountered endless times at shows, in my own barn, etc. But I really had a reckoning with why I took that five year break I spoke about from the equestrian sport, just a few months ago after George Floyd’s murder. I follow the popular equestrian podcaster, YouTuber, and +R training advocate Jill Treece (JetEquiTheory). A few months back, she was using her platform around that time to amplify black and brown riders and bring awareness to the fact that while there’s a lack of diversity generally throughout the equestrian world, media does a fantastic job of convincing us that there is no diversity to begin with.

Those of us who are riders of color and queer riders—we’re constantly convinced that we’re completely alone in what we do. It wasn’t until Jill started connecting me with these other riders of color, and—I’m a little embarrassed to say but also, I’m so thankful for it!—TikTok—led me to find an incredible community of queer equestrian folks, where I got to meet another nonbinary rider for the first time ever—it wasn’t until I started meeting all these people and following equestrian diversity alliance on Instagram and joining the Facebook groups and so on and so forth that I truly realized what a weight and a stressor it was to not see myself in those who did the sport. I have never once in my life met another Filipino equestrian. I’ve never come out as nonbinary to any trainer I’ve ever had, and as a result have sort of volunteered myself via my own silence to be misgendered by my trainers throughout my riding career.

Even with as kind a trainer as I have now, I fear coming out in the equestrian space because I don’t know the ripple effects of hatred and bigotry it may cause. I’d rather go under the radar and still be able to ride than feel like I’m getting quietly pushed out by those tides of racism and bigotry again. I felt so alone in the horse world for so long, and it’s incredibly difficult to put that feeling to words. This scholarship is the first time someone has said to me “I see you, and I know this is hard for you, and I’m offering you help.” That’s so huge.

As for a non-equestrian-related goal, it’s my dream to become a professor, with a focus on visual culture and abolitionist study and theory. That’s what most of my time was dedicated toward in undergrad and I would love to teach eager students about race, justice, history, and visual culture. It is a dream of mine to teach college-level courses in prisons so that people in prison have the opportunity to get college degrees while we actively work to dismantle the prison industrial complex in the meantime. Ideal situation for me—there will be no “prison” as we know them for me to teach in when I get to that stage in my life!

Five Eventers We Were Inspired by in 2020

Every year the EN team looks back on the last 12 months and tries to narrow down the many remarkable stories of hardworking, determined, passionate eventers to include in the annual list of eventers who inspired us. You are an incredible bunch and we are so honored to follow along as you chase your dreams and work in the service of the sport — this list could be so, so much longer.

Here are the stories of five eventers who inspired the EN team this year. Go Eventing.

Photo via Cathy Weischoff’s Facebook page.

Cathy Wieschhoff 

The eventing community came up with some creative ways to keep one another’s spirits lifted this year. For five-star eventer Cathy Wieschhoff, that has been 270+ sessions of a Facebook Live drum set each night, dubbed “CoronaTunes/Quarantunes” almost every evening since Covid began. It turns out that not only does Cathy know her way around a cross country course, she knows her way around a drum kit! Each morning Cathy posts the day’s playlist to her Facebook page and friends can tune in live at 8 p.m. EST to hear the set.

Our deepest condolences to Cathy, who lost her mother Kitty the day after Christmas this year. Kitty sounds like an extraordinary force of nature with whom Cathy was very close, who unwaveringly supported her equestrian career. The evening after she died, Cathy and Jess took a night off the drum set, encouraging friends to read the heartwarming story of her family’s “Wandering W” and leaving us, as usual with words of hope: “We love you, we’re in this together, we’ll get through this together, see you tomorrow.”

Cathy returned on Dec. 28 to play a repeat of the playlist she did on her mom’s birthday this year, beginning with Chicago’s “Just You ‘N’ Me.”

Thank you, Cathy, for all the positivity and courage you have shown us this year — and every year.

Photo via a YouTube screenshot.

Jon Holling

After yet another preventable death on cross country at the beginning of 2020, five-star eventer Jon Holling, already a fierce advocate of eventing safety, committed himself fully to wholescale reform: the implementation of frangible tables at ALL events across country. By year-end, nearly $500,000 had been raised toward this goal, which is now becoming a reality as the technology gets put in place. Going forward into 2021 and beyond, real lives will be saved because of the efforts of Jon and other allies of the cause, as well as all those who contributed to the fund. And there is still work to be done — click here to make your secure, tax-deductible donation, earmarked for Frangible Fence Research, today.

What sealed the deal on Jon’s official status as an eventing safety legend: his pledge in May that, if we could get to the next $50,000 benchmark for frangible fence fundraising, “I will get a tattoo, #FrangibleNow, right across my ribs. But we gotta get there before the next horse leaves the startbox. So the next 50 grand, I’ll get the tattoo and I’ll video it so you guys can see me cry. Alright let’s do it.”

Watch, and feel proud. You’re the hero we need, Jon.

Photo via Deonte Sewell’s Facebook page.

Deonte Sewell

Deonte Sewell shared his experience of being a Black equestrian in his NM diversity scholarship essay, “A King and Queen’s Sport,” this summer. In earnest detail he described his love for horses, his passion for eventing, and the challenges he has encountered pursuing it as a career.

Within hours, Mountain Horse had stepped forward to hook him up with a sorely needed new pair of tall boots. Friends rallied around him and lifted him up. By September, he had begun working for Phillip Dutton and began blogging about the experience for COTH this month — you can read his first post here.

“This winter, I started to find what’s worked for me, finding out where I needed to improve in leading up to coming [to Phillip’s]. Here, I’m learning something new about myself and my riding. I would’ve never experienced that or had known that had I not been able to start sitting on nicer horses and ride with professionals.”

Laila Alexander. Photo courtesy of Lauren Tracey Alexander.

Laila Alexander

Here at EN, we’re always on the lookout for upcoming talent, and none impressed us more than 4-year-old Laila Alexander. She completed her first mini-trial this year, and she just keeps shooting for more and more. Above, you’ll see her cross country schooling at Stable View like a BOSS.

This year has been discouraging in many ways, but watching Laila updates from her mom’s Facebook page was a shimmering beacon of hope. She went from dipping a toe into the water jump to straight up cantering courses — much to her mom’s chagrin! Keep kicking on, Laila, you are awesome.

Laura Collett and London 52 take the win at the 2020 edition of Les 5 Etoiles de Pau. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Laura Collett

With only one CCI5* on the cards in 2020, the winner would have provided us all with a great story and no shortage of excitement no matter who they were. But the fact that it was Laura and her five-star debutante, London 52, made it nothing short of a fairytale.

At this point, we’re all familiar with London 52’s trajectory – after all, we’ve all been riding the rollercoaster together. The talented former jumper only began eventing internationally in 2017, and when he won the Blenheim CCI4*-S for eight- and nine-year-olds the following year, all eyes were on him. But that meant he spent his 2019 season learning about his sport – and making the green errors that come with that learning curve – in the spotlight. A win at Chatsworth was followed by heartbreaking mistakes at Bramham, Aachen, and the European Championships, but a ‘run for fun’ at Boekelo CCI4*-L saw him put it all to bed and take an enormously emotional win. This year, we saw him reappear swaggering, taking the win in his prep run at Little Downham CCI4*-S and then win his first five-star from pillar to post.

But London 52’s journey wasn’t the only impressive thing about the victory. Laura is a young professional cut straight from the cloth of an old pony novel: without money behind her, she got her start in the game as a child, buying cheap, unbroken ponies off the side of the Welsh mountains, producing them to show, and selling them on for a profit – and that method took her all the way to Badminton. Along the way she’s dealt with considerable hurdles with remarkable toughness and a good sense of humour: there was the crushing fall in 2013 that left her half blind, the death threats she received when the remarkable opportunity to retrain much-loved steeplechaser Kauto Star turned into a living nightmare, and all the day-to-day hardships of trying to juggle life at the top of the sport when you’re not born into wealth. If anyone deserved to have all eyes on their finest moment, it was certainly Laura.

Go Eventing.

USEA Issues Statement About Unionville Event Venue

The USEA issued a statement this afternoon regarding the event venue in Unionville, Pennsylvania, which is preparing to host its international competition Sept. 17-20, 2020.

The landowners terminated their property lease on Monday, Sept. 14, according to an email that has been publicly circulated. An announcement from the event organizer was subsequently issued on Wednesday, Sept. 16.

From the USEA:

“Having this historic competition close isn’t the right result for the sport, and the United States Eventing Association (USEA) is working hard to find a solution. The organizer and landowners operate exceptional events on a beautiful piece of land. We are deeply sensitive to the history of the word ‘plantation’ and its connection to slavery; however, this property has no known connections to slavery and was instead named after ‘plantings’ on the property.”

“We understand that neither the organizer nor the landowners have ever intended to cause any discomfort related to the name of the event and to imply otherwise is a disservice to our organizers, landowners, and our sport. The USEA does not have the ability to require an event to change its name as we are required to carry the US Equestrian (USEF) licensed name of the competition on our calendar of events. However, we are hopeful that an acceptable solution to this issue can be reached.”

As EN expressed in an editorial on Wednesday, as was shared in a post today, and as we’ve seen reflected in many comments by our readers, the venue’s name carries significant negative connotations for some people. EN would like to reiterate that we do not believe it was ever the event’s intention to cause offense. The event’s cancellation was never the intention of our discussions between ourselves and the governing bodies, which have been ongoing since June 26, nor was it ever a condition of ours for covering this event.

This venue is an important fixture on the U.S. eventing calendar and one that we look forward to each year. It is unfortunate that the event’s stakeholders chose to cancel the event rather than entertain the possibility that their venue name may be offensive to an important population of our eventing community. We hope to see USEA and USEF demonstrate more follow-through in their commitments to prioritizing diversity and inclusion in our sport going forward.

Go Eventing.

The Problem With ‘Plantation’

Photo by Eventing Nation.

Updated 9/16 2:39 p.m. eastern: Denis Glaccum, President, PFI Events, Inc., announced this afternoon that Cuyler Walker, a PFEE Board member and landowner, has cancelled the lease for the property. Mr. Walker notified PFI Events and the USEA of this decision earlier in the week on Monday, Sept. 14. The loss of this event is a significant one for our sport. Our intention was to open a discussion, guided by the governing organizations, to make sure diverse BIPOC would be welcomed and included in every area of eventing. We are deeply saddened that the property owner has chosen this path rather than join us in an open discussion about inclusivity as it reflects on the name of this iconic venue.

Dear Readers,

2020 has brought about a reckoning in many ways, between a global pandemic and catastrophic weather patterns; there has also been a collective realization of how little we have done as a society to combat systemic racism. The world as we know it has changed, and we’re all struggling to adapt and evolve. Here at EN, our team’s education has been and continues to be ongoing. Our learning curve when it comes to fighting racism has been steep, and we’ve had our own missteps in efforts to grow and change. But we feel strongly that we should use our platform to help address issues that are facing our sport. We have been encouraged to see USEA and USEF prioritizing diversity and inclusion efforts as well.

To that end, one thing that we have become aware of is the troubling associations inherent in the name Plantation Field. Specifically, the word “plantation.”

To be clear, the EN team loves this venue: the majestic hills, the gorgeous rings, the top notch organizers and the incredible volunteers. The hard work and generosity of all involved with the event including the land owners, organizing board, sponsors and everyone who works behind the scenes has made it one of the most iconic and beloved events in North America. We look forward to it every year and wish everyone competing in this year’s edition, which kicks off on Thursday in Unionville, Pennsylvania, beautiful late-summer weather and a safe, successful weekend.

We believe strongly that the people associated with this event never had any objective to offend with the event’s name. In fact, the proceeds from the 2016 Plantation Field event went to benefit Work to Ride, which gives disadvantaged urban youth the opportunity to learn to ride and care for horses.

We also believe that we do not have the right to determine what others are offended by.

While the purest definition of “plantation” may simply be a piece of property that has been farmed for a long piece of time, part of the definition mentions that those who worked the land were usually resident laborers. Colonization all over the world meant that while sometimes the plantation labor was through indentured servitude (often a cruel endeavor in and of itself), primarily plantations were worked by enslaved people, and most Americans associate the term with slavery. We have heard from BIPOC equestrians that the name is problematic for them. One was asked to groom there by a friend and agreed to go, resigned to the fact that “horse people just don’t understand” why the word plantation does not conjure up a peaceful, pleasant scene. Asking people of color to come visit, to spectate, volunteer, or compete, at a place called Plantation is insensitive at best and works against our efforts to implement more diversity in the sport. If we truly want eventing to grow, should we not embrace opportunities to demonstrate our commitment to inclusion?

This is not the first instance of a sport coming to terms with its questionable naming history. Earlier this year, the National Football League team based in Washington, D.C. changed its name to the Washington Football Team, a placeholder to replace the racially derogatory name of “Redskins” that had been used for the past 87 years. This choice was made after pressure was brought from corporate sponsors, including FedEx, which holds the naming rights to the stadium in which the team plays.

In the throes of the conflict, team owner Dan Snyder repeatedly voiced his resistance to the name change, even after a formal petition to change the name was filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2006. And yet, in the face of a country in the midst of grappling with its own troubled history, it became clear that Dan needed to face the music: things were changing, and it was time to evolve.

Meanwhile nationwide, “plantation” place names and the word itself are under new scrutiny, as for many the word conjures images of large farms staffed by slaves in the antebellum South. In June, Rhode Island (officially named “the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations”) removed “Providence Plantations” from official documentation and planned to vote on an official state name change in June. A few years ago, Cornell University changed the 50-year-old name of Cornell Plantations to Cornell Botanical Gardens in response not only to concerns from BIPOC students but also to better reflect the mission of the gardens.

We realize that Plantation Field’s 20-year-old name is rooted in the plantings on the property and not in a known history of slavery at the site. We are also aware that the surrounding local area is abundant with abolitionist roots, which should be celebrated. But the history of our nation, and even of Chester County, Pennsylvania, is inseparable from slavery; some Pennsylvanians enslaved people of African descent as late as the 1840s (a gradual emancipation plan had begun in 1780). And the fact remains that the word “plantation” has painful and racist connotations for BIPOC and is at odds with the message our sport is otherwise trying hard to project: that BIPOC are welcome, included and safe in eventing.

It is not right to always wait for BIPOC to point out issues like this. It is the responsibility of white people to also see the issues and put themselves in uncomfortable positions so it is not constantly the burden of BIPOC to need to call out problematic terminology and therefore risk being labeled as troublemakers. If changing the name creates a more welcoming sport for all, then we should make these changes.

Additionally, we take seriously our responsibility as stewards of our sport’s public image, which in this moment of nationwide racial injustice reckoning could easily be jeopardized by something as simple as a name, however well-intentioned. Equestrian sport has received enough negative attention in the mainstream media this past year; we don’t need more.

Ultimately whether Plantation Field changes its name is up to the event and its governing bodies. And ultimately, our talk as a media outlet is cheap. We can only seek to influence those in positions of power to make positive changes. In this case, their actions speak louder than their words. We are also obligated to perform our job ethically. Silence on this topic would not be responsible in light of the issues that have surfaced this summer. We must be willing to draw attention to problematic terminology if we are to be productive as allies of a diverse community. In our process of doing so we have taken care to minimize the potential for negative escalation and maximize the potential for change.

EN reached out to USEA and USEF in June to express our concerns about the Plantation Field name. But change is often a slow moving train, especially with organizations where there are multiple channels of bureaucracy to move through. As the event drew nearer it became clear that a name change would not materialize. We had to make a decision as a media outlet about our own path forward, and we agreed that we were no longer comfortable using the word “plantation” on our website. After engaging the event to explore alternative ways we might reference the event, such as the FEI nomenclature of ‘Unionville,’ we were informed by Plantation Field founder Denis Glaccum that EN was not welcome to attend nor cover the event. With regret we will be honoring that directive.

These issues are not going away. Our team stands firmly as allies of riders of all races, backgrounds, and sexual orientations. As the wider lens of society shows us, it’s time to make decisions that further our sport for the better, creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for all, not just those who already participate.

While we won’t be covering Plantation Field this weekend (and this will be the final time we refer to the event as such), we hope to return in the future and would love to applaud its leadership for updating the event’s name to one more befitting of the area’s abolitionist history. We know that the eventing community at large would as well. To all those who are competing this weekend, we wish you the best of luck.

Go diversity. Go eventing.

Signed,

The Eventing Nation Team

EN’s #2019TopNine: A Year in Your Favourite Photos

One year and lots of baaaad ponies. Who says we don’t give the people what they want?

Here at EN we’re suckers for tradition, and something that’s become de rigeur over the past few years is the sharing of an Instagram Top Nine. What better way to remember some of the lost moments of the year gone by (and what better way to momentarily curtail the ‘going into 2020 with 20/20 vision!’ posts, while we’re at it)? Sometimes you can spot a recurring theme in a top nine, and in the case of our own, you certainly can: 2019 has been a banner year for horses behaving exceptionally badly at trot-ups. Let’s take a closer look at the posts that made the grade this season.

#9: ‘I Love It When You Call Me Big Pippa’

2,236 likes procured Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street their first appearance in our top nine, in this photo taken by Nico Morgan at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials. Why was it so popular? Because poor Pip, who had halted in the wrong spot and was trying to mime putting a gun to her temple, actually ended up giving us some straight up rapper vibes. We got, um, carried away, posted the above on the ‘gram, and then Pip herself weighed in with both some fire lyrics and a requested edit to the text. We. Love. Her.

(Of course, Pip would lead the dressage despite her error, and then go on to win the event – but she never stopped mentioning her foray into the world of hip-hop throughout the week. Consider us firmly encouraged in our persistent silliness.)

Jonelle Price and Faerie Dianimo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

#8: Superman That…Arrowhead

Sometimes a photo gains in popularity purely for its awesome displays of athleticism, and this example, taken at Aachen by Tilly Berendt, certainly fits the bill. 2,457 of you were impressed by the fearsome and fabulous Jonelle Price and her 2018 Luhmühlen winner Faerie Dianimo, who skipped through the incredibly difficult first water with characteristic grit and gumption. Once again, Jonelle’s pretty little mare proved that an unconventional style means nothing in the grand scheme of things, and the pair would go on to finish eighth and help the Kiwi team to second place in this most revered of CCI4*-S competitions.

#7: Rain, Rain, Go Away

Mmmm, eventing in the spring. Shannon Brinkmann was our photographer in situ at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event this spring, and her snap of a seriously soggy Leslie Law and Voltaire de Tre’ earned 2,572 likes – mostly, we suspect, from very warm and dry people enjoying a little bit of schadenfreude.

Though it was an inauspicious start to the week, they wouldn’t stay soggy for long – and Leslie and the striking ten-year-old would go on to finish tenth. Naaaaht bad going.

Louise Harwood and Balladeer Miller Man. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

#6: Let’s Go Fly a Kite

Louise ‘Wiggy’ Harwood is a tiny woman with a penchant for oversized – and occasionally, over-adrenalised – horses. When Balladeer Miller Man served up some serious sass on the Badminton runway, Wiggy dealt with it like a woman who has been there before, and the (Eventing) nation looked on in awe. 2,753 likes later, and this photo by Tilly Berendt is our sixth most-liked of 2019. We hear that Balladeer Miller Man has taken over from Pluto as the smallest and feistiest planet orbiting the sun.

Tim Price: the horse whisperer. (???) Photo by Tilly Berendt.

#5: No Panic, All Disco

Remind us to always keep Tim Price around – he’s certainly useful (and hilarious) in a crisis. Or so Izzy Taylor found at Badminton, when Springpower decided to make his own way home from the far end of the trot-up strip. He wouldn’t get far, however: the fast-thinking Kiwi, still attached to his own horse, Bango, threw out the star jump to end all star jumps, catching the horse and roundly saving the day. Just look at that face – that’s a man used to putting a toddler on the naughty step.

This shot, taken by Tilly Berendt, garnered 2,785 likes and more than a few whispers about appearances on Dancing with the Stars.

Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z make it happen. Photo by William Carey.

#4: You Are Now Flying Air Deniro

2,852 people liked this epic shot of Liz Halliday-Sharp and Deniro Z, who grew wings to clear the colossal – and enormously influential – Maltings question at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials. It was a great week for US riders, with eleven of our own in the hunt. Two would finish in the top ten, while Liz and Niro would wind up in a very respectable 15th place, chasing away the irritating rotten-luck demons that had been following them around earlier in the season. A formidable effort from them both at this hotly-debated combination would cement the talented gelding’s worth as a true five-star competitor. William Carey was well-placed to capture the moment – we recommend zooming in to check out the facial expressions going on in the background, too!

Pippa Funnell and MGH Grafton Street win Burghley. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

#3: Pippa Takes it All

One of our most popular photos of the year encapsulated one of the most popular wins of the year: this fab photo by Nico Morgan captured the split second that Pippa Funnell landed from the final fence and realised she’d won the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials, 16 years after her last win at the level, which saw her take the first Grand Slam back in 2003.

What was even more special were the circumstances in which she won: she led from pillar to post with MGH Grafton Street, a five-star debutant who’d garnered a reputation for himself as a bit of a heartbreaker across the country. But Pippa, riding a wave of confidence after a brilliant trip to the Europeans the week prior, gave him the ride of his life over one of the biggest courses we’ve ever seen, proving that you can overcome anything – confidence wobbles, self-doubt, and iffy records – to make your wildest dreams come true. We’re not too proud to admit we cried, and 3,101 of you seemed to be on much the same page.

Ben Hobday and Harelaw Wizard. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

#2: A Clydesdale at Badminton

British trot-ups did big numbers this year, and this photo by Tilly Berendt – which earned 3,110 likes – combined three popular Bs: Badminton, Ben Hobday, and a BIG HORSE. Ben’s Harelaw Wizard – who, like Mulrys Error before him, is part-Clydesdale – won the much-coveted ‘Feet Most Closely Resembling Dinner Plates’ prize in EN’s prestigious Golden Chinch Awards.

There’s something to be said for those tootsies of his, though – he jumped a super clear across the country to ultimately finish 37th, and then went on to finish 21st at Burghley. Four clears out of four runs at five-star – we’re off to buy ourselves a supercob.

The Ground Jury can’t give you bad marks in the dressage if you trample them, I suppose. Photo by Shelby Allen.

#1: The Young and the Restless

A trip to the wild, wild west (um, Rebecca Farm) ended up as an impromptu visit to the rodeo, when Claire Howard‘s Euro Star decided to liven up proceedings at the NAYC first horse inspection. But she needn’t sell him as a reiner just yet – the Area III duo finished 13th in the CCI2*-L after three solid phases, just missing out on a place in the top ten when the pesky final rail fell. These poles ain’t loyal, man.

This perfectly-timed shot, which probably warrants its own rave soundtrack, was taken by Shelby Allen and racked up an impressive 5,623 likes. Claire, for what it’s worth, you won’t be the first person to make your big EN debut with a hilarious trot-up photo and then go on to big things. We’re looking at you, Will Rawlin.

EN Gives Thanks: Counting Your Blessings, Part III

What are you thankful for this year? That’s the question we asked EN readers for the 2018 Thanksgiving Challenge from World Equestrian Brands, and your responses were numerous and heartfelt. Over the holiday weekend, we are honored to share your special stories. You can view an archive of them here

Photos courtesy of Izzie Blumenthal.

Izzie Blumenthal: I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes it’s hard to be thankful. To be fair, the past few years have been extremely difficult. In four years, I went from perfectly healthy to chronically ill. I’ve had a TBI, a fractured leg, multiple severe mental health diagnoses and interventions, and I lost both of my parents. It has become so easy for me to lose track of what I have in a life that has suffered so much loss. But in a world where I have undergone such severe trauma, there is still good. If I hadn’t gone through what I did, I wouldn’t have met the people who I now call my family.

There would be no Kati to be mischievous with, no Ashley to cheer me up when I’m down and rub my head until I fall asleep, no therapy to resolve my traumas and help me heal. I wouldn’t have gotten my cat *ahem* dog Bradley or have gained the wonderfully sassy family that I currently live with. My mother would’ve never let me get a pony if I wasn’t independently working for her. If my mother had not died, I would have never met the amazing women who I call my sisters or have a hilarious memory of my therapist nearly getting his hat stolen by a horse. And I may not have gotten to event in almost half a decade but I am going to be strong enough to do it again. For all of that and more, I am grateful.

My therapist says that I am wise for my young age from everything I’ve been through. I’m not sure if that’s true or not but I would like to impart some wisdom upon you, EN. Be thankful for your friends, your family, your barn family, the privilege to compete, your pets, the moments that have broken you and made you stronger, those who have helped you patiently figure out how to ride your horse, and most of all be thankful for your horses for with them we achieve dreams. Be thankful for everything you have. Just be thankful.

Go thankfulness. Go eventing.

Debbie Snead: Here I am at 67, almost 68 years old. The old mantra of I have always loved horses is true. There are many stories along the way and I don’t want to bore anyone with those details. I have grown from the I would ride almost any horse to the horse I ride now must be pretty safe.

Three years ago my gelding spooked and I flew off his back. Ended up breaking mine. Couldn’t ride for several weeks and drove my husband and doctor both crazy asking how soon could I ride again.

Fast forward three years, and I have become less confident, but I still get back on my gelding almost every day. I am thankful for him. He is my heart horse. I’m lucky to have had two of them. Callahan died at age 32. Amos is almost 12. I’ve had him since he was a yearling. No, I probably won’t show him. Lessons still make me nervous.

I still take lessons on him or lately my trainer has been teaching him piaffe, passage and canter pirouettes.

I am thankful I have a horse in my life. I thank him even if I only ride for a few minutes. I am working on building my confidence. I’d like to try the half pass at canter again. Until then he gets his kiss on the nose, his treats and my whispered thank you.

Emma and the American Warmblood she leases, Magpie. Photo courtesy of Emma Goltz.

Emma Goltz: My name is Emma Goltz and I am a C-1 Traditional pony clubber from the Northeast Region USPC. I am thankful for my instructor, Mary. Last year, I was jumping 2’9” and schooling Beginner Novice cross country. I was competing in jumper shows and riding all different kinds of horses.

Then, something shifted. I fell off a couple of times and suddenly my confidence plummeted. I started to second guess myself even stepping up to the mounting block. An 18” crossrail now felt like a 3’6” oxer. I only felt comfortable riding our barns safest school horses.

Yet, through this difficult time, someone stuck by my side. Mary. She cheered me on when I finally cantered the full arena again. She told me not to give up when tears rolled down my cheek when I was nervous to jump. She believed in me. Eventually, cross rails turned back into small verticals and those turned into jumping the barrels once again. Last week, I even did a three jump grid. This is like night and day, from my nervous rides last fall. So I want to thank Mary for keeping cheering me on and being my inspiration.

Parand Jalili: I’m thankful for so much this past year! Like every year, there are ups and downs, but we most certainly grow from every life lesson we encounter. This year I purchased my first horse (I’m from a non-horsey family, so you can imagine how wild of an experience this was!)

I’m so thankful to wake up every day and go ride. I’m certainly thankful for finding a horse that will put up with my amateur mistakes, still forgive me, and loves me back. I’m thankful for what I learned whether it was what to do and what not to do. I’m so thankful for the support of my family and genuine friends! I’d have to say 2018 has been a pretty amazing, definitely exciting, and somewhat wild year. Of course not every day is perfect, but at the end of the day, we grew from it all. I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to grow and not get stuck! Also very thankful for our awesome vet and amazing farrier 😉 They had our backs!

Photos courtesy of Molly Forney.

Molly Forney: I’m thankful I finally found a horse I can trust. My beloved heart horse, Doc, was a great partner, but I thankfully retired him when his ringbone was too much to keep riding with. He is spooky and did not travel well. He instilled fears of showing and travelling in me. He would decide jumps that he had already done were randomly terrifying.

I bought and sold two horses in short order after his retirement. One was bold and talented, but couldn’t take a joke with my amateur hands. The other hated our mostly ring-based program and developed an attitude issue. My confidence was shot after a bad fall and, at this point, years of not jumping consistently.

My trainer found my horse online. She just knew. Ollie was woolly, underweight, and 19 years old. He was also kind, quiet and sound. He has a canter that instills confidence in you. While it’s been a year and a half since I bought him, he has taken me from crossrails back to 2’6″. We have done hunter shows, combined tests, and my first recognized horse trial.

I recently went on a trail ride on a horse I had never met before. We cantered through the woods and trotted through sloppy fields. Had it not been for Ollie, I would never be able to step out of my comfort zone. Ollie has been the perfect horse for me, and I cannot be more thankful he came into my life.

Abby Basner: I am thankful for my amazing eight year old OTTB gelding Tucker. We started our partnership two years ago and even though he has never seen a cross country course or been in a dressage arena before, he gives me his whole heart. It has been a wonderful two years learning together with many ups and downs along the way starting at Beginner Novice and moving up to Novice this year. We placed 5th in our first ever recognized Novice event at Champagne Run at the Kentucky Horse Park which qualified us for the Area VIII Championships. After our amazing first run at Novice level, we headed to Cobblestone Farms in Dexter, Michigan a few weeks later. I figured this would be a walk in the park for us since we school there often, but we were uncharacteristically technically eliminated due to refusals on cross country.  At that point, I knew something wasn’t right.  After checking my saddle fit, getting him adjusted, and everything else I could think of, I took him to the vet to have him examined. We concluded that he had gastric ulcers and we started treating him right away even though it was a huge blow to my pocketbook. It was all worth it though.  He now feels better than ever and we just placed 2nd at our last schooling event at Cobblestone finishing on our best dressage score we have ever had.  I appreciate every day I get to spend with my amazing partner.

EN Gives Thanks: Counting Your Blessings, Part II

What are you thankful for this year? That’s the question we asked EN readers for the 2018 Thanksgiving Challenge from World Equestrian Brands, and your responses were numerous and heartfelt. Over the holiday weekend, we are honored to share your special stories. You can view an archive of them here

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Morey.

Tiffany Morey: This year I am thankful to be lucky enough to have a life with horses in it. Although they have a way of making things more interesting and complicated at times, there is nothing like the companionship and love of a horse to make everything better at the end of a long, hard day. Happy Thanksgiving and go eventing!

Photos courtesy of Jeanna Epping, with extra thanks to JJ Silliman for the photo of Jeanna pushing her stroller.

Jeanna Epping: I am so thankful for my crazy this year. For all the members who help in the crazy that is my new life and all the members who at least don’t comment on my crazy (in public). I spend my days (poorly) balancing my 14-month-old, my eventing and horse career, my bartending job, and my family. Finnic is the best baby I could ever ask for and allows (most days) me to get everything I need to get done at the barn with him in tow. My circus is quite the show, and the barn family is always helpful and never judges when I push the stroller halfway across the farm with horse in tow so I can ride in the arena. My faithful dog Lincoln is always there to lend a happy (muddy) face when needed. This is the front stage view of the circus.

Behind the curtains is a very very patient husband that helps keep it all together. He never says no when I have a crazy idea on how to get it all done or judge the amount of coffee I consume or the fact the barn might be swept when the kitchen is not. I may not have reached any of my goals this season or even completed a single event with my horse BUT we showed up and we did it! Hopefully next season is smoother and more accomplished, but I’m so thankful for the process right now.

Photos courtesy of Nicole Virden.

Nicole Virden: The beginning of 2018 was a rough one. I was having some serious health issues that started impacting my ability to work as a nurse, and the side effects of the medications my doctors gave me started to cause rapid weight gain with little symptom relief. As I headed into Spring, I was depressed and starting to feel hopeless. I lost my dear Aunt unexpectedly… and I lost the ride on my lease horse (on top of everything else). I was devastated.

Then my miracle happened: I met my new health coach and gained a new horse-friend in the process! With her help, I set out on accomplishing some new goals … get healthy, get fit, and get riding! As the pounds started coming off, I test-rode a mare that ended up being a great fit. She was feisty and fun, and even with my experience, she gave me a challenge! I just needed to find a barn to move her to. My friend came to the rescue again, offering me a spot at her private boarding facility.

What am I thankful for? This year, it seems I’m thankful for everything! I’m thankful for my wonderful friend and coach, my new barn friends and my wonderful trainer! I’m thankful for the sweet mare I get to ride every day, and the progress we are making. I’m thankful for my husband who supports and understands my horse addiction and its role in helping me heal. I’m thankful for my improving health and fitness. As I look ahead to 2019, I’m excited to continue my journey in health and horses, in the show ring and beyond. So much to be thankful for, I feel truly blessed!

Photos courtesy of Sara Kolenda.

Sara Kolenda: What am I thankful for? The forgiveness of my horse. The trust my horse has in me to navigate over the terrifying obstacles and scary terrain that we eventers tend ask without even thinking of the horse’s perspective. I’m thankful that God gave us the gift of these incredible creatures. And I’m thankful for the love my horse gives me in return. Love shown in nickers and excitement when I walk in the barn. The love that brings me out of the darkness of my depression on those long, hard days. The love that has built a bond so strong that we can conquer anything. These are a few of the things I am thankful for, not just on Thanksgiving, but every day I am alive.

EN Gives Thanks: Counting Your Blessings, Part I

What are you thankful for this year? That’s the question we asked EN readers for the 2018 Thanksgiving Challenge from World Equestrian Brands, and your responses were numerous and heartfelt. Over the holiday weekend, we are honored to share your special stories. You can view an archive of them here

Photo courtesy of Kayla McCoy.

Kayla McCoyThis year I’m very thankful for getting back in the saddle. In 2017, I ruptured my gastroc tendon which made me unable to ride for almost a year. Now I am able to ride again and will be able to begin competing again next year. I am also thankful for my job that I was offered this year. It is an amazing experience to train the endangered Cleveland Bays. Also for all of the opportunities my employer has given me with taking me to shows and letting me foxhunt with her! A special thank you to Riverspring Cleveland Bays and to all of the people that have supported me getting back to what I love!

Winslow and Will: “I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence, but both of them are solid dark bays.” Photos courtesy of Maggie Hitron.

Maggie Hitron: This year I am thankful for my horse, Winslow. When my heart horse, Will, tragically died in 2012, I knew that I would never find another horse like him. I was convinced that heart horses are a rare blessing, like a soul mate, and it’s a one per person type of deal. When yours comes and then goes after what feels like much too short of time together, that’s it — you’re done. You should be happy for the time you had together, because some people never find the one special horse that sings to their soul on the deepest of levels.

This past year has proven to me how very wrong I was, and I am so thankful for that. I met Winslow in December of 2016 when I responded to an ad I found on Facebook for a free horse, but it wasn’t until sometime this year that I realized that over the past two years, he’s become more than just another horse to me. Winslow can still be the athletic, opinionated horse with a bad attitude that I initially brought home, but even these traits have become endearing to me. I’ve loved, and still do love, the horses I’ve had since losing Will. But Winslow has become so special to me and has filled the hole in my heart that I didn’t realize was still there.

Every morning that I hunt him down in a dark field to bring him in, every evening when I clean his stall, every day that I swing my leg over his back, I thank my lucky stars that I found Winslow. I think having had Will, and lost him, has made my experience with Winslow all the sweeter. Thankfulness just doesn’t seem like an adequate feeling to describe the all-encompassing feeling of gratefulness that I have every time I take a step back and realize how lucky I am to have found a second heart horse.

Photos courtesy of Sabrina Salley.

Sabrina Salley: At 16 pain became my closest acquaintance when I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. If you aren’t familiar with it, fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder of unknown cause that leaves me in chronic, constant, severe pain. At 16 I had to face the harsh reality that there is no cure to my condition, and that until a cure or treatment is found I will live at a constant 7-10 on the pain scale. Every day I wake up to a different body — some days I wake up and I am sore in my hips, but otherwise fine. Some days my roommate or sister has to help me get out of bed and get dressed for class.

This year I am thankful for my support system — my friends, my family, my horses, my boyfriend. They have helped me accomplish my dreams- from riding at USPC Championships to attending the school of my dreams. I am thankful that every day I wake up and need help there is always someone willing to lend me a hand, whether that be reminding me to do my assignments or bringing me food because I’m curled up on a migraine day. I am blessed to have friends that will do anything for me to help me live my dreams, including lend me their fancy warmblood so that I could break my 6-year bad luck streak and ride at USPC Championships East.

As I look back on this year I realize how many goals I’ve achieved of mine — placing in the top 10 at Championships, earning my H-A/H-M certification in Pony Club, being valedictorian of my high school class, riding a Pas de Deux with my twin sister, going to the last Warped Tour with my friends, doing well in my first semester at my dream college … all because of my support system. Every day I am grateful for the sacrifices my parents have made for me to continue to ride, working long hours and using their vacation time on competitions, feeding our collection of misfits and doing whatever they need when they hurt themselves.

This year has been incredible, and every day I am thankful for this life I live and the people I get to spend it with. Life isn’t easy for anyone, and we all need our support network to get through the hard times. I will spend my Thanksgiving break studying for finals, riding my heart horse, and laughing with my friends and family. How will you spend yours?

Photo by Nicole Garrison, courtesy of Emma Young.

Emma Young: I squirt a big, green, wet blob of epsom salt poultice onto my horse’s hoof. Then I grab the roll of vet wrap and quickly wrap it before my horse gets bored with the whole ordeal. Next I slide his hoof into his boot. I pause for a second before I unclip him from the crossties. I give his left hoof, his abscess, a dirty glare before realizing all the reasons I should be thanking it instead.

For one, I’m thankful it’s only an abscess. When my horse came in for dinner on the cold first night of November, he was three-legged lame. I had never seen him in so much pain. In the half an hour it took the vet to reach us, I fretted over the possibilities of what could be wrong. What if he broke something? What if he has laminitis? What if I can never ride him again? What if..? My thoughts got more irrational by the minute. I will never be more thankful in my life to hear that my horse has an abscess than I was that night, because it could have been so much worse.

I’m also thankful that his many abscesses this year have allowed me to become quite good at wrapping hooves. I know how to soak hooves, apply poultice, and wrap vet wrap better than I ever thought I could. Before this year it would take me sometimes half an hour to do one hoof. Now, thanks to abscesses, I can do it in under five minutes.

While I haven’t been able to ride or compete my horse near as much as I had hoped to this year, these abscesses have allowed me to spend more time with him in other ways. Days that I normally would have been schooling dressage have now been spent grooming his coat to a shiny perfection. Days that we normally would have set up a gymnastics line, we have shared quiet moments while I take him on hand walks and let him eat the grass that always seems to be greener outside his pasture. Days that we may have trailered away for a lesson or a fox hunt, we instead hung out in his stall; him munching hay and me singing him songs or telling him the latest news in my life. His abscesses have allowed us to get to know one another in a different way. I will always be thankful for the calm afternoons these abscesses brought us.

Finally, I thank his abscesses because they have given me opportunities to ride more horses. While my guy was sidelined, I got to show both my trainer and her friend’s horses. I got to hunt several people’s horses in my hunt club too. I would have loved to have taken my horse to all these shows and hunts this year, but taking others is an opportunity I’m truly blessed I received.

 

EN Gives Thanks: Our #Blessed Team

We here at EN have a lot to be thankful for year-round. We get to work in the service of the sport we love and participate in it in a wholly unique way. It’s a gift that isn’t lost on us, and years like 2018, with all of its rewards and challenges, peaks and valleys, have bound our team closer together than ever before.

Here are a few of the things we’re thankful for this year:

Jenni Autry, Leslie Threlkeld, Shelby Allen and Leslie Wylie at WEG.

Shelby Allen: Thanksgiving rolling around at the end of the season is a perfectly timed opportunity reflect on the incredible year we’ve had. I’ve gone back to school and competing has taken the back burner, so I am extremely thankful to stay involved with this amazing sport through EN. I was especially thankful to spend a wild week with a few of them in Tryon for WEG. It was a long, slightly crazy week, but there’s no one else I’d rather do it with. 


I am thankful for many things this year, but finding my new horse, Derry, has to top the list. Photo by Steve Berkowitz.

Jenni Autry: A wise man once said “choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” I’m not sure I so much as chose this job as it chose me. The people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet along the way have become dear friends and ultimately family. The doors EN has opened, not just for my career but for me personally, have greatly enriched my life. From a riding standpoint, I took a giant leap forward this year thanks to working with amazing coaches who pushed me and believed in me when I needed it most: Dom and Jimmie Schramm, James Burtwell, Liz Halliday-Sharp and Joseph Murphy. I am thankful beyond words as I look ahead to the 2019 season with a supremely talented horse and the goals I have dreamed about my entire life finally within my grasp.


Ain’t no memory like a blurry memory from a Polaroid camera — but what could be better than a brilliant first four-star performance for a brilliant friend? Tilly Berendt, Hallie Coon, Celien, and Praire StipeMaas Tobul at Pau.

Tilly Berendt: Honestly? I’m thankful that there’s only a mere 102 days until the eventing season begins again! (I joke, obviously — that is a horrendously long time to wait.) In all seriousness, I feel so, so lucky to have come to the end of another year absolutely bursting with love and pride and inspiration, all because of this mad, wonderful, occasionally infuriating sport. Every season has its ups and downs, and this one has been no different — there have been some tough times, for sure, but the highs have been something seriously special. The 2018 season brought with it some indescribable joys: I welcomed my beautiful mare, Bella, into my life this spring, and she gave me the chance to get back out competing myself. The chance to set real goals again in that realm has been such a blessing, and I have to pinch myself every day when I see her silly face hanging over her stable door. But life as EN’s resident roving Brit has been pretty incredible, too — I’ve had so many brilliant adventures this year at a plethora of three- and four-stars, and I’ve once again found myself at the beating heart of a sport that means more to me than I could possibly say. I’m enormously thankful for several things: the chance to live my dream week in and week out, the vibrant and vivacious eventing community at large, old friends and wonderful new ones, and, of course, the phenomenal EN team. I spent years reading Eventing Nation and daydreaming about being part of the madness — actually doing so has exceeded every expectation I ever had, and I feel so lucky to work alongside some of the most talented and passionate people in the business. May our paths cross far more often in 2019! /end soppiness


Photo courtesy of Meagan DeLisle.

Meagan Delisle: Once a year I sit back and am reminded of just how lucky I am to live a crazy, pony-filled life. I could go on and on about all of the things I am thankful for and never reach a dead end. That being said, I will just give a massive thank you to the team at Altamonte Show Stable for coaching me, making me laugh, helping me to realize my dreams could be a reality and convincing me that no, I would not die if I went cross country schooling. A jumper at heart, this little barn family is slowly turning me to the dark side of things. And while my plans of competing at my first recognized event were shattered not once, but twice (maybe this is a sign?!?) I am very much looking forward to finally giving eventing the ole’ college try in 2019. #JumperGoneRogue


Photo by Allison Howell

Kristen Kovatch: As Eventing Nation’s token cowgirl (insert collective gasp here) I’m so thankful this year for all of my colleagues and friends across Nation Media for reminding me what a great community we’ve built. For me, it really hit home earlier this autumn at the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover, hacking around the Kentucky Horse Park with field hunter/competitive trail Meagan DeLisle of Jumper Nation and eventer Kate Samuels of Eventing Nation — the first time all three sites had ever been represented simultaneously in person. We had never met before face to face, but here we were riding and talking and laughing together like we had known each other all our lives. Back at home, the rest of the team was cheering us on every step of the way, regardless of discipline. That’s a special community, and one that I’m so thankful to be part of.


Photo by Mily Mallard.

Abby Powell: You know how the saying goes that this is a sport of high highs and low lows? This has been one of those years on the lower end of the spectrum for me personally, but it’s made me incredibly thankful for the friends and family that I have in my corner who somehow seem to know exactly when I need a hug and a helping hand versus when I need a kick in the pants to get back on the metaphorical (or literal in some cases) horse. I may not have been able to compete as much as I wanted to this year, but ultimately I have a healthy and happy horse and for that I certainly have to be grateful as well! Plus, I’ve gotten to spend another year contributing to EN alongside this wonderful, wacky, hard-working, and talented bunch and for that I am #blessed.


Grateful for ponies that make me smile like this mid-course. Photo by Nicole Patenaude.

Kate Samuels: I’ve never been much of a big picture person, and I mean that in a good way. I’m always grateful for tiny moments in life, like the memory of a perfect jump on a young horse, the happiness of your dog when you come home, a good laugh with friends when horses inevitably drive you insane, the unfailing pleasure of said horse running to meet you every morning when you stumble outside bundled up against the elements, the satisfaction of a freshly swept aisle at the end of the day, and everything in between. I love that I am part of an absurdly witty, supportive, badass feminine powerhouse like EN, and I’m so grateful that it continues to help me make real life friends and connections even after all these years! Also, I’m very very thankful for mashed potatoes with stuffing and gravy because it is my favorite part of this holiday, if I’m being totally honest.


A good herd can help you get you to the other side of pretty much anything. Photo by Amanda Charlton.

Leslie Wylie: I feel especially blessed this year to be surrounded by such an incredible herd of family, friends, co-workers and, of course, horses. Life is so much more fulfilling when you feel supported; the good times are better when you have loved ones to share them with, and the rough stuff is made a little smoother when you’ve got a friend to call or a horse’s neck to hug. My husband Tommy and I are excited to announce that our herd is about to grow a little bit bigger, as we’re expecting a baby boy in April. Due date: the second day of Kentucky Three-Day Event dressage, naturally! Nothing like a dressage live stream to soothe the nerves while one is in labor — that will be something to be truly thankful for, indeed.


“Uncle Bailey” showing Leslie he still knows a thing or two at 19 years young. Photo by Heather Lynn.

Leslie Threlkeld: I’m not one to wax poetic or get particularly emotional, but with all the sadness and frustration in the world, I consider myself to be a very lucky individual. I’m generally very healthy and so is my family. My husband and I live in our dream house on a farm we have big plans for in an area of the country we absolutely love. My mom just happens to live nearby and we get to ride together all the time. On top of that, my young Thoroughbred turns out to be a natural foxhunter and it’s been a thrill to ride to hounds with my mom and old reliable “Uncle Bailey”. Above all, I am lucky enough to have turned a little girl’s horse crazy obsession into an incredibly rewarding, fulfilling career working with the most talented and inspiring team of journalists. I am never bored and there is nothing better than writing about, photographing, and cheering for the incredible people and horses in this sport. I urge you all to be true to yourself, follow your dreams, treasure those close to you and enjoy life’s wild ride to the absolute fullest. We’re right there, galloping alongside you. Thanks for being part of the EN team, dear readers. Gobble, gobble.


Showing off my amazing husband, super star horse and Best Conditioned award at Midsouth. Photo by Megan Lynn.

Maggie Deatrick: I’m sitting in Belgium, writing this full of beer and spaghetti (as apparently one does in Belgium), after Jenni kindly reminded me that I’d had yet to find the time to contribute. That I can drop everything and head overseas speaks volumes as to what a fantastic support team I have in my life, not the least of which is the incredible EN team, my husband, Matt and Cecily Brown at East West, and my supportive parents. I’ve finally completed the first full competition season on a talented but difficult horse that I bought two years ago, culminating in a solid T3D. The future is bright and I couldn’t be more thankful to have ended the year with an optimistic outlook.

Go Eventing!

WEG Rolling Reporter’s Notebook: Live Updates from the Field

EN is all-hands-on-deck and reporting live from the 2018 Tryon World Equestrian Games! Check back here often for thoughts, observations, updates and other assorted WEG detritus. 

#Tryon2018: WebsiteEntriesScheduleStart TimesIndividual ScoresTeam ScoresUltimate GuideHow to Watch LiveEN’s CoverageEN’s TwitterEN’s Instagram

MONDAY, SEPT. 17

Tuesday WEG spectator parking has been moved. Spectator parking for the WEG is now located next to our Sandy Plains Volunteer Headquarters for Monday and Tuesday. Follow Department of Transportation signs to the parking lot. Parking at the Steeplechase Lot will reconvene on Wednesday, September 19. [Parking moved]

SUNDAY, SEPT. 16

BREAKING: Show jumping will take place tomorrow at 10 a.m. EST in the U.S. Trust Arena. — Jenni Autry

We can confirm Leslie T is alive and well and did NOT get run over for the sake of getting ‘the shot,’ but it was a close call, indeed! Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

BREAKING: The final horse inspection for eventing at WEG has now moved to 2 p.m. in Ring 2. Click here for the starting order. No horses have been withdrawn prior to the horse inspection at this time. There is flooding spread throughout the venue. A time has not yet been confirmed for when show jumping will take place on Monday. — Jenni Autry

SATURDAY, SEPT. 15

The final horse inspection has been confirmed for 3 p.m. EST Sunday. Location TBD. This is subject to change so keep checking back for updates — Jenni Autry

Bernard Fonck and What A Wave make history by claiming the gold medal for Belgium. Photo by FEI/Liz Gregg.

Belgium’s Bernard Fonck made WEG history by taking individual gold in the reining — the first European to do so in the sport’s WEG history. Aboard What a Wave, Fonck rode a huge pattern to mark a 227, a score that held through USA’s Daniel Huss and Ms Dreamy (226.5), as well as Cade McCutcheon and Custom Made Gun (225). McCutcheon’s score, riding in his first WEG at the age of 18, tied with Brazil’s João Felipe Andrade and Gunner Dun It Again; McCutcheon took bronze in a run-off. Fonck’s victory symbolizes the incredible growth of reining on the international equestrian scene in the past decade, and Europe’s ability to hold its own against the discipline’s home nation. [Fabulous Fonck Shocks Americans] — Kristen Kovatch

There is still no confirmed time for the final horse inspection, as of 9:30 p.m. EST. The very second we get this information, we’ll pass it along to you. Jim Wolf, WEG Director for Eventing, did confirm to EN that the jog would be held tomorrow saying: “We have no intention of cancelling the competition. It’s likely that we’ll have to jump on Monday, have the horse inspection tomorrow, but we’re going to finish this thing.” I would like to add that this has not been confirmed officially by the FEI. Check back here! — Shelby Allen

Here comes the storm. Heaviest rainfall is set to hit the Tryon International Equestrian Center at 8 p.m., and the media center is being shut down early. Because of this, reports may come out a bit later than we would like, but we are working like mad to bring you all the latest from WEG cross country day as soon as we possibly can. In the meantime, catch up on the live updates at this link. Thanks for your patience, loyal readers! — Shelby Allen

The Dressage Freestyle has been cancelled. Following yesterday’s announcement that the dressage freestyle would run Monday morning due expected inclement weather, officials announced today: “The logistics of putting all necessary elements into place in time have proved insurmountable. As a result, and very regrettably, the Dressage Freestyle will now be cancelled.”

“We know this is desperately disappointing for the 15 athletes who had qualified their horses for the Freestyle, and of course for all the spectators who had bought tickets, but the weather has simply left us with no choice. Horse welfare has to be the top priority and flying the horses out on the same day as competition doesn’t work, so sadly the decision to cancel the Freestyle had to be taken.” [Helgstrand Dressage Freestyle cancelled]

Meanwhile, in the post-cross country press conference, WEG Director of Eventing Jim Wolf clarified that while endurance and dressage have both suffered from competition abandonments, this eventing show WILL go on: “We have no intention of cancelling the competition. It’s likely that we’ll have to jump on Monday, have the horse inspection tomorrow, but we’re going to finish this thing.” — Leslie Wylie

Weather incoming! There’s a little bit of a menacing “storm’s a comin” feeling in the air on the dawn of cross country day. As of 9:30 a.m. the National Weather Service’s forecast for Mill Spring was as follows: “Showers, mainly after 1 p.m. The rain could be heavy at times. High near 78. North northeast wind around 18 mph, with gusts as high as 26 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New precipitation amounts between a half and three quarters of an inch possible.”

Our amateur meteorological analysis is that it looks like the slow-moving, rotating storm is going to creep up on us and it’s going to start raining between noon and 1 p.m. but we’re going to be mostly on the edge of it during cross country. Pack your rain gear and keep your fingers crossed.

A number of changes have been made on account of the impending inclement weather. Cross country will run today as planned, starting at 11 a.m. EST with horses running at 3-minute intervals and fences 23A and 24B removed from the course. Eventing’s show jumping phase has been postponed until Monday, as has Sunday’s Dressage Freestyle. Read our “Final Thoughts Before WEG Cross Country” here. — Leslie Wylie

Radar at 9:30 a.m. via Weather.com.

FRIDAY, SEPT. 14

Friday End-of-Day WEG status: 

— EN Staff

Isabell Werth of Germany was again unstoppable in the Grand Prix Special, taking home another gold medal. She earned her first individual medal since 2006 at a world championship aboard her once-retired Bella Rose 2. But USA’s Laura Graves and Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin put the pressure on: Graves and Verdades danced for the home crowd in their second WEG, and Dujardin and Mount St. John Freestyle floored everyone in the duo’s first world championship and fewer than ten Grands Prix to the mare’s name. [Werth Makes Good On A Promise With WEG Grand Prix Special Win] — Kristen Kovatch

Charlotte Dujardin GBR on Mount St John Freestyle. Photo FEI / Liz Gregg.

The endurance fiasco has taken a turn for the tragic. In a press conference this afternoon, the FEI confirmed that an endurance horse was euthanized following Wednesday’s race. The identity of the horse, who was euthanized off-site at Tryon Equine Hospital, was not disclosed but will be released later in a statement. Over 50 horses received veterinary treatment during or after the abandoned race for heat-related metabolic issues.

FEI President Ingmar de Vos, FEI Veterinary Director Göran Akerström, and President of the Endurance Veterinary Commission Thomas Timmons emphasized in the press conference that equine welfare was the reason for the race’s abandonment, while the circumstances surrounding the misdirection of riders which solicited a restart are still being investigated. They took a few reporter questions but many hands were still raised when the nearly 25-minute press conference was ended. Update: See full story here. — Leslie Wylie 

A.m. parking update: Spectators this morning are saying that time from parking to entrance really isn’t bad. The lines are long, but they’re keeping plenty of buses in the rotation. We hear that the tricky part is just parking — no one is directing anyone is the spectator lots, so it’s a bit of a chaotic free-for-all. Apparently someone in a minivan hit one of the shuttle buses yesterday: party foul! More details on the parking situation on the website here. — Shelby Allen

An access road under construction in the galloping  lane at the end of the WEG cross country on Friday morning. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Pardon the dust. A construction crew is currently hard at work building an access road across the galloping lane at the end of the WEG course. You can see fence 25 in the distance of the photo above. They assured us the road will be complete and covered in footing well ahead of tomorrow’s cross country. All jumps aside from the final fence have now been placed on course. Check out EN’s updated course preview here. — Jenni Autry

Leslie Threlkeld is suited up for battle. Photo by EN’s personal pharmacist/dermatologist/human winky face emoji Kate Lokey of the USEA.

Feeling hot, hot, hot. We’re braced for another blisteringly hot, humid day here at WEG, with a high near 90 and sauna-esque humidity. That equals a heat index you can’t take lightly. So, to reiterate lessons learned in LT’s cautionary tale below, do all the smart hot weather things: chug water, dress appropriately, wear sunscreen, and take breaks in the shade. Considered yourself mommed!

Temps are supposed to cool down a bit but get wetter for the weekend — see the latest National Weather Center forecast here. Hurricane Florence, now downgraded to a category 1, made landfall this morning some 300 miles west and slightly south of TIEC. As it disperses over land, Florence will make its way along the North Carolina/South Carolina border for the next couple days then move generally northward across the western Carolinas so … straight at us, basically. The sun is out in full force now, folks, but rain is on its way.

Saturday’s cross country start time is currently scheduled for 11 a.m. We will let you know if officials make any changes to schedule or course on account of the weather. — Leslie Wylie

THURSDAY, SEPT. 13

#OverheardAtWEG — There is currently only one tweet on Twitter that has ever used this hashtag, dating all the way back to 2010 when America last hosted the WEG in good ol’ Kentucky. Please join me in saluting the American hero who tweeted this gem: “I need to take this photo — hold my bourbon.” #OverheardAtWEG

We’re getting this hashtag started with a few things we’ve heard so far at Tryon this week.

  • “DADDY!!!” — screamed by a female fan as Boyd Martin exited the dressage arena
  • “Today was a better day. No sports got cancelled.” — wife calling home to her husband
  • “Is it too early to start drinking?” — heard this multiple times already and it’s only the first day of dressage

We trust that you — the great people of Eventing Nation — will not let us down in carrying this forward. Go forth and tell us what you #OverheardAtWEG. — Jenni Autry

This is a cautionary tale. As repeatedly reported, it’s hot here in Tryon. They’ve already cancelled entire sports due to the heat and humidity, and we’re really concerned about the effects of the weather come Saturday cross country. Well, after a blistering first horse inspection Wednesday, I woke up this morning thinking I was smart to wear a dress and stay cool while photographing an entire day of dressage in the sun. I was still not prepared.

After a warm but bearable morning, I walked in the media center with two dressage groups left to go later in the afternoon, and I thought the EN girls might strap me to my chair and take my camera away. I was too hot and not hydrated. I escaped back out to the ring with a lifesaving packet of electrolytes Shelby forced upon me, but it was nevertheless an uncomfortable afternoon.

What I’m trying to say is, please be careful. Do as I say, not as I do, folks. Don’t try to play tough. Drink more water than you think you need, wear a hat and breathable clothing, apply sunscreen, seek shade. Feeling groggy? Find some air conditioning. Feeling dizzy? Find the medics. The heat index here is no joke. Stay safe, sports fans. — Leslie Threlkeld

 

Laura Graves and Verdades for Team USA.
Photo FEI/Liz Gregg.

Germany, long known as an international dressage powerhouse, clinched team gold today with USA taking silver and Great Britain earning bronze. Germany’s Isabell Werth surprised many with her selected mount Bella Rose, coming out of four years of retirement, and still managed to score not only a personal best of 84.7% with that mare but comfortably take over the lead. USA’s Laura Graves and Verdades put the pressure on but could not overtake Werth; the pair’s performance cemented USA’s silver medal position. For thorough coverage, we’ve included three links here with three perspectives:

–Kristen Kovatch

Endurance dramz continue. The Spanish Equestrian Federation has lodged an appeal against the FEI’s decision to abandon yesterday’s endurance competition. Had medals been awarded at the time of abandonment (no official timestamp has been disclosed), Spain would have won team gold.

In its appeal, Real Federación Hípica Española noted that more than 80% of the distance had been completed by the race leaders at the time of cancellation. They also pointed out that while there is no legal precedent for the situation, but in previous competitions cancelled for reasons other than the weather medals were awarded according to placement at the moment of suspension (they cited the 2012 FEI World Endurance Championships as an example). “All of them are the reasons why we ask the FEI to reconsider its decision of not awarding medals to this championship,” the appeal concludes.

Leslie Wylie

Pro tip for spectators: bring a few toiletries for an overall more comfortable experience. I haven’t struggled too much with availability of toilets, but none of the porta potties seem equipped with hand sanitizer, and there aren’t any hand washing stations. A few are beginning to run out of toilet paper as well, so pack accordingly and make your life a little nicer this week. — Shelby Allen

Here’s a live stream hack for all you watching dressage at home! We’re getting some great commentary on the FEI TV live stream, but unlike the Burghley live stream for example, the stream does not show any marks for the movements as they come in from the judges. However, you can get a nearly real-time look at the marks from the live scores page.

First off, you’ll notice that when a test is going on, the rider is listed on the leaderboard in the place that they’re currently trending. If you click on the number in the points column, it will bring up a new window with a copy of the test and marks from each judge. This window updates automatically and tends to be a smidge ahead of the livestream. Not quite as awesome as having the scores right there on the screen while you’re watching the test, but it’s pretty darn good! — Abby Powell

Voila! Real-time scores!

Parking lot/shuttle update: In yesterday’s Spectator Guide we noted that the parking/shuttle situation was an issue. Early birds saw a much-improved situation this a.m. (although we still heard concerns that the ground would deteriorate with continued rain); later on, however, it seemed to get much worse, with seriously long lines for the shuttle at Lot F. We’ll keep you posted as we hear more, but for now we strongly recommend leaving yourself ample time for the trip. — Leslie Wylie

FEI TV giving you grief? We’ve gotten comments from several readers that they can’t access the live stream. Please note that even if you have an annual FEI TV subscription, you still have to purchase the $26.99 WEG pass. Lame, we know. UPDATE: Looks like FEI TV subscribers can now watch WEG for free — just go to “Subscriptions” and add WEG.  [How to Watch the 2018 World Equestrian Games on TV + Online] — Leslie Wylie

Weather update (8:30 a.m.): Now a category 2 hurricane, Florence is expected to make landfall on Friday then begin a slow, soggy parade over the Carolinas as it disperses over land. At last update from the National Weather Service’s WEG station, “The projected weather pattern here at TIEC will be heavy rain on Sunday evening into Monday and possibly Tuesday, with winds peaking on Sunday evening at 30mph with gusts of up to 40mph.” They note that the thunderstorms we’ve been experiencing are unrelated to Florence. Currently there is no change to the arranged flights for competing horses.

Geography reminder: Tryon is about as far inland as you can get and still be in the Carolinas, some 350-400 miles (560-640 kilometers) west of the mandatory evacuation zones along the coast. So while we’re definitely going to get wet and we’ll likely get buffeted by some storms, we’re not about to get swept out to sea. In the event of severe weather, TIEC addressed the venue’s “robust” contingency plan on Tuesday — read our report from that here.

View WEG weather updates here; text “WEG2018” to 888777 (U.S. phones only) to receive immediate notifications about weather and updates on schedules and programming. — Leslie Wylie

Tryon is north of Greenville (shown on this map) near the North/South Carolina border. Image via Weather.com.

WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 12

Controversy ruled the day in endurance, which was ultimately canceled. Numerous factors came together tragically to spell total disaster for endurance: a hot, humid day, the still-not-quite-finished state of the endurance course itself and a large part of the field getting misdirected off-course in the first loop of the race this morning. The FEI made the decision to run as a shortened 120 km track, throwing out the first loop entirely, but by 6 p.m. announced that due to high heat and humidity, the endurance event was canceled and would not be rescheduled. With the leaders just a few kilometers from the finish, the announcement was met with a near-riot and police were called in to restore order. [FEI Cancels WEG Endurance Mid-Race] — Kristen Kovatch

We’re heartbroken for eventer-turned-endurance rider Hilda Donahue, who was representing Ireland before the race got called. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Germany takes the expected lead in team dressage, but plenty of combinations have yet to show tomorrow. Germany is arguably the world powerhouse in dressage, but there’s plenty of competition. Sweden holds strong in the silver medal position and Team USA is currently in third. Team medals will be awarded after tomorrow’s competition. [Germany Remains On Top After Grand Prix Day 1 at WEG, U.S. in Third] — Kristen Kovatch

Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and TSF Dalera of Germany lead the individual dressage rankings on a score of 76.677%. Photo by Sportfot.

Team USA defends reining gold! Belgium took silver and Germany took bronze, but it was Team USA leading the way with 18-year-old Cade McCutcheon at the top of the pack with an incredible score of 229. While today crowned the team championship, it also served as the first individual qualifier; tomorrow’s consolation round will allow a few more individuals to the finals on Saturday night. Click here to watch the winning rides.

In the past four years, FEI Reining has demonstrated remarkable growth, with more countries furnishing teams as well as individuals for WEG competition. As the only western discipline at the World Equestrian Games, this all-American sport has taken off all over the world in the 16 years since it was first included. [McCutcheon Steals The Show As United States Retain Reining Team Title] — Kristen Kovatch

Cade McCutcheon and Custom Made Gun of Team USA. Photo by Sportfot.

Go Eventing.

Best of JN: How to Desensitize your RRP Thoroughbred Makeover Mount

There are plenty rules of thumb regarding how to properly acclimate an OTTB to his/her new career in the hunter/jumper industry. Ground poles, lots of turnout, haul them around to plenty of shows so they can get a feel for the environment, the list goes on and on.

The team at Brookwood Farm Sport Horses in Conyers, Georgia decided to try a new approach for preparing their 2018 mount, Frankie, for life after the track. Watch as his rider, Kaelya Markl, introduces Frankie to a wee bit of yard work.

JC Name: Franchitti is a 2012 gelding who tried his hand….err…hoof at racing a whopping six times, only to bring home lifetime earnings of a whopping $785. Despite his less than successful race career, it appears as if Frankie is loving life off the track and taking every little step in stride.

Here’s to OTTBs and their awesome sense of adaptability. Now….where did I put that leaf blower?

Go Jumping!

Anonymous: ‘Don’t Let Anyone Take Your Power’

As what has been labeled a “sexual assault epidemic” in America continues to unfold, EN has encouraged discussion within our own equestrian community. One positive step forward has been the USEF’s embrace of Safe Sport policies as a safeguard against sexual misconduct and abuse, but the onus is on us all to utilize the resources now available. To quote a memo from the USEF issued last week: “It is essential that all members educate themselves regarding Safe Sport. Not only to understand when and how to report, but also to recognize the signs in order to prevent abuse before it occurs.” 

What are the red flags we should be looking for? Who is at risk? Young people, in particular, are among the most vulnerable to being exploited by those with more power and influence than themselves. Today we share an anonymous letter recalling a working student experience that began with hope and ended with disillusionment. 

Dear Olympic Hopeful,

I know you. I was you. Let me start off by saying, “you CAN do it.” If you work hard enough, seize every opportunity to learn, have self respect and integrity, you CAN do it. You will find many people throughout your life that will tell you that you CAN’T. Don’t let them use their own insecurities and failures to weigh you down.

Sometimes though, when you least expect it, things will happen to you that are out of your control. You just can’t predict the way people will behave. Some people have no humanity and therefore will try to take yours for themselves. It’s an unfortunate reality, and I am very sorry for that part of life.

A story:

When I was 22 years old, I got a job with my HERO. The man I had looked up to my whole life. The man who would teach me to be an Olympian. I left my life, family and friends, bought a horse which we were going to train together, and moved to a different state. I was going to be his assistant. I was completely under-qualified, but I was ready to seize every opportunity to learn.

I found a place to live that I couldn’t afford, moved there with the horse I was making payments on, only had a bicycle for transportation as I couldn’t afford a car, and just figured I would MAKE IT WORK. That’s what you do when you have dreams and goals. You just make things work.

My first day on the job, my “hero” asked me to come up to the house after I was settled in. I knocked on the door and he answered with two Budweisers in hand. I asked where his wife was, but she was out at the time. I took it and went to sit down. However, before I could do that, I was quickly pinned up against the wall, and this man — who was decades older than I — was inches from my face.

I stammered, “What are you doing?” He replied calmly and without stopping his forward motion, “I am trying to kiss you.” I quickly replied something like “Umm, no thank you,” and awkwardly left. Even as I write this almost 20 years later, my stomach is in knots, my face is hot, and I am ashamed and embarrassed. Why? He did it, not me.

In one moment, he crushed me. My hero was human. And a pig. And a liar. My hero was a human pig with zero class or respect for me or my dreams.

It should come as no surprise that two days later I was “let go” due to “financial reasons.” So now I had a horse, no car, no job, living in a place I couldn’t afford. Thanks, fallen hero. Thanks a lot.

Why am I telling you this story? Because people will try to take your power. Don’t let them. I am sure there are other victims of his out there. And if not his, others. It’s a sad story in all aspects of the world. Those who have power think they can take from those that don’t. Don’t let anyone take your power. You have your own.

Don’t give up on your dreams. My Olympic dreams ended, but other dreams began. And I poured my heart and soul in to those, and you know what? I am happier than I could have ever imagined.

You can do it. The only person you have to answer to is you. You take care of YOU. You are your first line of defense. I hope this never happens to you. But if it does, maybe hearing my story will leave you a little more prepared.

I will be cheering for you to win gold, Hopeful One.

[#MeToo: A Letter to Myself as a Young Rider]

[Time Is Up: SafeSport Polices Sexual Abuse in Olympic Sports]

[USEF President, CEO Issue Direct Address on Sexual Abuse and Misconduct]

[USEF: Failure to Report Suspected Sexual Abuse & Misconduct Is a Crime]

#MeToo: A Letter to Myself as a Young Rider

New allegations continue to surface daily in what has been labeled a “sexual assault epidemic” in America. More and more Silence Breakers are starting to feel like they have a safe space to share their own stories, with the #MeToo movement on social media playing a critical role in empowering those who once felt like they had no voice. It should come as no surprise that our equestrian community is not immune from the epidemic. Today we share an anonymous letter we hope will give others in our community the courage to find a voice. You are not alone. 

In solidarity,
The Nation Media team

Dear younger self,

I remember you. The horse-crazy kid who gets dropped off at the barn after school every day and loiters there from sunup to sundown all summer long. Mucking stalls, riding everything you can, bombing around bareback without a care in the world. You are eager to learn, to be the very best, and you hang on your trainer’s every word. You devour horse magazines cover to cover, cutting out photos of top riders and pinning them to your bedroom walls.

I remember you. The starry-eyed teenager with gold-plated Olympic dreams. Jumps are getting higher; things are getting serious; the sport of eventing has become your whole world. Your trainer takes a particular interest in you, gives you the ride on a nice horse that will take you to the next level. You are the star student and you thrive on the attention — it makes you feel special, even exceptional. It makes you feel seen.

You are also naive and impressionable, and so you feel confused when your trainer’s attention moves from verbal praise into the realm of the physical, the sexual.

Molestation is an ugly word, so you don’t use it — after all, it isn’t like you are kicking and screaming to get away. Another word you don’t use is “no,” and as a result you feel responsible for the blurring of boundaries. You feel complicit. Besides which, what if you tell someone and the nice horse gets taken away, or your parents take away horses altogether? None of these seem like risks worth taking, so it goes on, for years.

I remember when your secret begins wearing you down. How when you drive to and from the barn, you start to fantasize about stepping on the gas and veering off the road. It feels like your only option for escape. One bitter winter night you finally do it, but it doesn’t go as planned. Your car is wrecked but you are uninjured, and so the nightmare continues.

At 18 you finally make your getaway. You take a working student position several hours away, in a top-level barn with positive, healing energy. You start over with a young OTTB, who will eventually become your own self-made upper level horse. You are alive, healthy and happy again.

But acts of sexual predation are widespread, scaling all strata of equestrian sport — even the sacred iconography that adorned your childhood bedroom walls. Like the time you go out to dinner with a group of riders at a three-day event — you’re maybe 19 by now — and the big name rider sitting next to you begins rubbing your thigh. Under the table, with his wife sitting across from you. He doesn’t even know your name and he is groping you. You begin to realize that the powerful take what they want, when they want it. You sit stiffly and pick at your dinner, laughing it off later with friends.

Life goes on.

Your first trainer is still out there, teaching young girls and running summer camps. And, as you’ll eventually learn, you aren’t the last “star student.” Some years later, within the statute of limitations, you consider pressing charges but — more horse-poor than ever as a struggling young professional — you can’t afford a lawyer.

As for the big-name rider who thought it was OK to feel up a random teenager under the table? He went on to represent the U.S. at the Olympic Games.

So what happens to you? The good news is, you’ll be fine (with the help of some good therapists of both the horse and human variety). In fact, you’ll be amazing. You’ll grow smarter, stronger and more adventurous. You’ll keep riding, marry a wonderful man, surround yourself with great friends, and land your dream job. You may or may not make it to a four-star, but you’ll find a place for yourself within the sport that fulfills you. Moreover, you’ll find your voice. And you’ll use it to talk about things that have meaning. Like this.

Know this, younger self: You are not alone. You are neither the first nor the last victim of a rider, trainer, owner, sponsor, employer, auxiliary, etc. who has used their power and influence to involve themselves sexually with someone younger and more vulnerable than themselves. You’re not as isolated as you feel, and you have access to more support* than you know.

To be clear, this is not a one-size-fits-all conversation. The two anecdotes I have shared from my own life exist at opposite ends of the spectrum, in terms of intensity and duration, but it is the same spectrum. The common denominator is a lack of awareness of power dynamics — who has power, who does not, and how it can be abused. And that needs to change.

I am writing this letter as acknowledgement that my voice is, and always has been, worth listening to. And as a warning against allowing my sense of self-worth to become entangled with the value of my body. And to give myself permission to let go of the guilt, shame and pain I have carried around for so long, regarding not only these incidents but others that would accumulate in the years to follow. It has taken the emergence of a broader cultural conversation to say these things out loud, even if under the veil of an anonymous letter.

I wish I was braver, like others who have come forward with their stories in full transparency. But perhaps my story is more poignant with no names attached, no fingers pointed. Who am I? I could be anyone: your friend, your student, your daughter. A face in the cross country warm-up. The rider stabled next to you at an event. Perhaps my story resembles your own.

If this letter resonates with any of you reading it, then I am writing it for you, too.

I realize that by declining to name names, I’m not exactly ripping down the veil of silence. As individuals and as a sporting culture, we have historically protected abusers. We sweep stories like mine under the rug because they disrupt the narrative about our beloved sport that we wish to believe, a narrative that does not include the degradation of its most vulnerable athletes.

But this letter, my letter, isn’t about specific names. It’s about a deeply troubling dynamic of exploitation that has long permeated equestrian sport at every level. Surely, there is something I — we — can do to throw a wrench in its gears, for the sake of this and future generations of at-risk young riders to come. Hopefully this letter is a solid first step.

I remember you. Love,
Me

 

*Editor’s Note: For support, information, advice or referrals, we recommend contacting the trained support specialists at RAINNSafe Horizon and SafeSport, a function of the IOC dedicated to stopping child abuse in sport and creating a safe culture in sports programs across the country. You may also contact the author directly at [email protected]