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Grace Gorham

Achievements

About Grace Gorham

My name is Grace Gorham, and I am an 18 year old eventer. I currently compete my OTTB, Murphy at the novice level. I am also an active member of Pony Club with my C-2 rating. I have been riding since I was 6 years old, mostly doing hunters until I found eventing. I love the challenge of having to perfect all three phases. In school, I like English and I also take journalism classes. Since finding out about sites like Eventing Nation and the Chronicle of the Horse magazine, I am interested in pursuing a career in equine media, which is mainly why I started this blog. I hope to share my insights about eventing, but mostly just horses in general, and also be able to see how others can relate to my experiences in the horse world. When I’m not riding horses, I like to watch Netflix or listen to some good tunes. My friends tell me that I’m very “food driven,” and I can get hangry very easily (some favorites are Chick-Fil-A and Chipotle). I’m known for being giggly and making people laugh. When I was younger, I would canter instead of walking places, but I’ve grown out of that now… mostly.

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My 2020 LRK3DE At Home

Even though all of us eventers aren’t able to be together this past weekend at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, I still wanted to celebrate this event that holds a special place in our hearts. I hope you created some fun memories at this year’s “virtual event” like I did, whether it’s calling your friends on FaceTime while watching old cross country videos together or hosting your own social distancing tailgate! Let me know how you celebrated.

 

 

Horses Keep Me Sane

Grace Gorham is an 18 year old eventer currently compete her OTTB, Murphy at the Beginner Novice level. She hails from Area II and “loves the challenge of having to perfect all three phases.” She shares this and many more insights on her blog, Murphy’s Law of Riding, which you can read here

Photo courtesy of Grace Gorham.

I’m sure you’ve used the phrase “horses keep me sane” before. Probably just as a joke in passing, without a second thought to the weight it holds. It’s only until I’m not able to ride do I realize how true it actually is for me. Not having Murphy at my barn has made me realize how much I miss him, and yet I don’t at the same time. It’s a confusing thought to come to terms with and explain.

My emotions right now are being aggressively bounced up and down like a ball in a pinball machine. I know most of it is because I’m not able to do anything, regardless of being able to ride or not. But, the one time a week that I am able to ride, a distinct feeling of happiness washes over me, and I realize how much I miss it.

The thoughts running through my head right now when I think about riding are the most cliché things ever, but I don’t care — it’s the truth! Especially when I’m not riding regularly, I become so much more in-tune with what I feel in my body and my brain while I ride. As soon as I swing a leg over the saddle, it’s like the puzzle starts to click into place, and I realize which pieces I’m missing in life without riding. I don’t know if I could even put into words the feeling of joy — you just know it as soon as it overcomes you. It’s a tingling throughout your whole body and it’s when you know you truly love something. As I try to break down this complex feeling while my lifestyle is changing so rapidly, I revisit the reasons why riding keeps me sane.

Riding is my stress relief

Riding makes me smile

Riding is my exercise

Riding is what makes me go to bed at a reasonable hour

Riding is my time outdoors

Riding is the reason why I’m always hungry

Riding makes me think outside-the-box

Riding is my social time with friends who share my passion

Riding makes me laugh

Riding is my creative outlet

Riding is how I grow and change

Riding is why I have patience

Riding is what helps me to keep an open mind

Riding is my time to think – just me, my horse, and my thoughts

Riding is what teaches me to manage a schedule

Riding is what motivates me to be better in all aspects of life

Riding is my escape from reality

Riding is my quiet time

Riding makes me happy

Riding makes us all feel many different things, and we need to spread these positive feelings right now. Please share what riding is to you in the comments below!

What I Learned From A Clinic With Doug Payne

Grace Gorham is an 18 year old eventer currently compete her OTTB, Murphy at the beginner novice level. She hails from Area II and “loves the challenge of having to perfect all three phases.” She shares this and many more insights on her blog, Murphy’s Law of Riding, which you can read here

Photo courtesy of Grace Gorham.

About a month ago, I saw an ad for a Doug Payne clinic being held at Oldfields School. I knew that I had to do whatever it took to be able to go.

I’ve always wanted to ride with Doug, but I have never seen any clinics with him nearby. Oldfields is about 30 minutes away from me, so it couldn’t have been a more perfect location. As a high school student, the cost was intimidating, but I decided that it would be the perfect Christmas present. When people ask me what I’d like for Christmas, I can never think of specific ideas, and honestly I’d rather have this riding opportunity than new clothes or the latest Apple product any day!

Of course, it’s never as easy as just signing up and going to the clinic. As most eventers know, horses somehow always seem to develop a mysterious lameness two weeks before an event. I guess Murphy caught the drift, and after some initial concern panic it was determined that he had an abcess. Thankfully the clinic was far enough away that he would still be fine to go after some time off. Although it felt like time was being taken away to prepare for the clinic, I am so grateful that it was just an abscess and not something more! And, Murphy is not a horse to lose fitness quickly, so we were safe there.

The days flew by and before I knew it, it was the weekend before the clinic. The clinic was in two days, and the high temperature for the first day was 32 degrees. But at least no snow! I sat out my many layers of clothes and was as ready as I would ever be.

Day 1

On the first day, I walked into Oldfield’s pristine indoor arena and saw that most of the jumps were set fairly low. There was an assortment of small exercises, including an oxer with placement poles, cross rail bounces, and an angled one stride. I was hoping that we would be doing grids because I know that Doug has a lot of exercises that Murphy and I would benefit from.

The very first exercise was an oxer that was maybe two feet high with placement poles in the front and back. We jumped it on a figure eight on what was about a 20-meter circle, which proved to be more difficult than expected when it came to making the tight turn. After Doug saw Murphy jump it a couple times, he told me to stop and go on a 10-meter canter circle and work on counter bending to straighten his shoulders, which is something that I already work on with my trainers. Side note: there was a ton of overlap in what Doug said about Murphy and me at the clinic, and what my trainers at home say, so I was very happy about that.

Doug also used a visual example of how Murphy’s shoulders turn by putting my crop in the pommel of the saddle and showing that no matter which way his head turns, he is still going to go in whatever direction that the crop, or his withers and shoulders, are turned. This was helpful for me to visualize because Murphy can act a little crazy about tossing his head around trying to evade my hands, but I really need to focus on his shoulders.

After that warm-up, Doug added more to the exercise and we did the same oxer, four strides to another vertical, then a sharp turn to the right toward three bounces, and a change of direction to do the whole thing backwards.

I liked all of the courses Doug came up with because they were very symmetrical, which was nice to jump everything fluidly in both directions. The last two exercises we did included an angled one-stride and a bending line to the angled one stride, focusing on straightness and accuracy. It was harder to execute than it looked!

There was a lot of trotting into fences, too, which I liked because that’s one of Murphy’s weaknesses. However, it was also good for the greener horses, because the exercises were somewhat complex and technical, but all of the fences were small enough to make it less intimidating. One of my favorite quotes from Doug over the two days was, “Don’t be afraid to introduce complexity early, just do it at a height where the consequences are insignificant.”

The overall theme of the first day was to slow it down when in doubt, and be precise about what you’re asking the horse. For me, Doug reinforced that I need to use a lighter seat since I tend to drive with my seat by instinct even if I don’t mean to, and I need to strengthen my leg by keeping it down and my knee off the saddle.

Day 2

When we walked into the indoor on the second day, there were lots of new exercises set up. It was still only a few degrees above freezing, but it felt warm compared to the first day!

We warmed up over the same small oxer with placement poles, and I was pleasantly surprised because Murphy jumped it well in a nice collected canter.

From there, we moved on to a bending line from the oxer to a vertical, then a sharp turn to three low bounces on a curved line, which I think Murphy was a little confused with at first – he got up to it and then was like, wait, what is this?? –  then a change of direction over a vertical, but it had two blocks set up on the front and backside of it to force you to jump straight over it. Murphy jumped it a little awkwardly the first time and knocked over the block on the backside. Whoops! Next was a sharp turn to the same bounces on a curved line, which Murphy jumped through better, and then back to the first two jumps. I remember after doing this exercise I was thinking, well, we were off to such a great start, but that definitely did not feel so smooth!

One thing I noticed about Doug’s exercises is that everything looked deceivingly simple from the ground. However, you could not get away with making a course look effortless unless you were straight and had your horse completely on your aids. I also enjoyed having to make some tight turns.

From there, we moved on to a one-stride, to a liverpool, to the jump with blocks, to the bounces, and back to the liverpool to a one-stride. Murphy did well with this, and we just worked on making the liverpool jump smoother so he didn’t launch over it.

Murphy had one runout when Doug put the liverpool up to a bigger oxer. I think that he lost some focus since he had a lot of stopping and starting, and it was just a super quick mishap where I didn’t give Murphy enough direction. The first thing Doug said when it happened was that as soon as you have a runout, you need to halt as quickly as possible and leg yield away from the direction they tried to runout. He also said that I needed to fix my line coming in, because although I didn’t put him on a crazy angle, I did not come in as straight as I should have. We repeated the exercise, fixing my line, and Murphy was totally fine.

One horse was having a lot of trouble with the liverpool and Doug got on him. This was honestly one of my favorite parts of the clinic because I got to see Doug’s expertise at work, close up. He made it crystal clear to the horse what was allowed and not allowed, and did so in an efficient, calm and controlled way. What stood out to me the most was that Doug managed to deal with a problematic horse and never once lost contact in the bridle. Seeing that up close made it clear why he’s able to bring horses along as quickly as he does.

By the end of  the second day, I was pleased with Murphy. He jumped well through some challenging exercises and he was quite professional.

To wrap up the clinic, Doug talked a lot about how the horses need to be quick on their feet. They need to respond immediately with tight turns to jumps, which means the horse always has to be looking for what’s coming next.

Also, the rider must be 100% clear in what they’re asking and expecting from their horse, because if you don’t give clear direction they will not understand what you’re asking.

As for me, I came away from the clinic with some key points and homework. I need to:

  • Work on staying in half seat more rather than going straight to my seat
  • Keep quiet, low hands
  • Add leg at the base of fences

On that past point, Murphy and I usually find it easy to move up to distances. He loves a long spot! We’ve worked hard in the last year or so to get him more confident and powerful from short spots. Doug suggested I focus on staying at a good canter pace, and be more aggressive with my leg at the base of fences so he jumps out well and I can fix his canter at the base of the fence rather than 5 strides before or after the fence. He said that short spots are fine, but Murphy has to be animated and pop up off the ground quickly, which comes from me putting my leg on.

I loved how Doug taught, because he was low key and cool, calm and collected about everything, but he clearly still has high standards that he will hold you and your horse to.

One interesting thing – to me, anyway – is that Doug often uses percentages when he teaches, as in, “You need about 20% more leg coming to that fence” or “Increase the contact by 10%.” It took me a bit to grasp this since it didn’t make  sense in my brain, but for Doug, being an engineer, I’m sure that’s just how his mind works. Either way, I really liked Doug’s focus on precision and details.

Overall, I was pleased with how Murphy jumped and the advice I got from Doug. A lot of it was overlap from what my jump trainer, Jenny, already tells me, but it’s just confirmation from another professional’s eye that we are working on all the right things!

Friday Video from SmartPak: Cosby Green Reflects on Her Fair Hill 3* XC Ride

Cosby Green and Highly Suspicious at Fair Hill International. Photo by Abby Powell.

Competitors, volunteers and spectators alike were spoiled this year on Fair Hill International cross country day with perfect weather conditions. It made for an enjoyable day of watching talented horses and riders gallop across the renowned Fair Hill grounds.

I got to catch up with one of these talented riders after the event: young rider Cosby Green, who contested the CCI3*-L with Edie and Clay Green’s 9-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Highly Suspicious. The 19-year-old had a successful cross country round at her first Fair Hill, adding just six time penalties to her dressage score of 36.0 and turning in a clear show jumping round to finish in 18th place.

Cosby Green and Highly Suspicious. Photo by Abby Powell.

Check out the conversation I had with her below to find out her thoughts on her ride, what it means to compete at Fair Hill, and what it’s like balancing college life with competing at the upper levels of eventing.

Congrats to Cosby, and we look forward to following her eventing career!

Going to LRK3DE? Here’s What Not to Miss

2019 will be my fourth year traveling to Lexington, Kentucky to watch the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. My first trip there was overwhelming. Each day offers endless opportunities to shop, eat, watch educational demonstrations, tailgate … oh, and don’t forget about watching the actual event!

Since I’ve been lucky enough to experience the only 5* in the U.S. a few times, I know what my favorite parts of the event are. There are things that I absolutely cannot miss over the span of the three-and-a-half days we are in Kentucky, which seem to go by in seconds. Everyone has their own opinions of what not to miss. For me, I don’t like shopping that much, so I don’t spend too much time in the vendor area, but I know other people who could spend their whole trip there!

LRK3DE is right around the corner. If you find yourself making your first trip to what I would describe as the eventing mecca of the U.S., I put together a helpful list of things you won’t want to miss. But it’s not just about my own favorite experiences, so I gathered input from frequent event goers to learn what others love about LRK3DE.  Hopefully this will give you some guidance if this is your first time going, or some new ideas if you are making the trek in April again.

“For me, it is standing at the rail of the warm up ring, away from others if possible, and taking in each rider, their horse, and what their coach is offering. It is an incredible learning experience if you take advantage. If you can’t get away from the crowd of spectators, try and wiggle your way in near where their grooms are standing, because nine times out of 10 the riders will come over to their grooms for final touches before heading in, and it is a great spot for the coaches to have one final pep talk.” –April Melato

This is a great way to find out what the secret is to a horse and rider combination having a great round. You can watch the exercises they use in their warm up and what advice their coach gives them (if they are with a coach). Some riders I have seen school over very small jumps the morning of show jumping and then later that day school over a few more jumps that are more sizable. Others only do a few jumps and are ready. I’ve also noticed that some horses and riders look completely different in the warm up than they do in their actual round, so seeing that change is always interesting.

Above is a video of Boyd Martin warming up his horse over some smaller jumps on the day of show jumping.

“Look at the schedule, and make sure you don’t miss the demonstrations in the Walnut Ring. They have some interesting ones, especially the police horse demonstration. I saw it last year, and it was hands down one of the coolest things I’ve seen about horses.” –Ilana Subramanya

“I’m going to have to go with the demonstrations! Elisa Wallace’s is always spectacular.” –Izzy McSwain

The demonstrations in the Walnut Ring are often overlooked because everyone is watching the event action or shopping. But you definitely do not want to miss these unique demonstrations! You should try to fit at least one that sounds interesting to you in your busy schedule.

I could not find a list of specific demonstrations for 2019 on the LRK3DE website (other than the times), so you’ll have to keep an eye on that ring as you make your way around the horse park. In the past they have had demonstrations with Elisa Wallace and her mustangs (my personal favorite), carriage driving, games, and police horses to name a few.

Here is a list of demonstration times at the 2019 event:

Thursday, April 25

12:45–3:30 p.m. US Equestrian Demonstrations and Exhibitions — Walnut Ring

Friday, April 26

9:45 a.m.–4 p.m. US Equestrian Demonstrations and Exhibitions — Walnut Ring

Saturday, April 27

8:30–10 a.m. Prince Philip Cup Mounted Games — Walnut Ring

10 a.m.–2:15 p.m. US Equestrian Demonstrations and Exhibitions — Walnut Ring

“My favorite thing to do is actually standing at the finish line and watching the horses finish cross country and being able to see how the riders, grooms, and support people take care of the horse and celebrate.” –Jaime Wright

This is one of my personal favorite parts of LRK3DE. I spend a significant amount of time on cross country day standing at the finish line as close as I can get to the vet box just to watch how each individual team takes care of their horse afterwards. They will often toss the tack close to the fenceline, so you can see up close what types and brands of tack your favorite riders use. Some riders are also interviewed in the vet box, so you can hear what their thoughts are immediately after their ride before the interview is posted to the public. I always think this is just as much fun as watching the action!

Elisa Wallace celebrates by hugging her horse after a great round. You can see her team running with her in the background as she trots into the vet box. Photo by Grace Gorham.

“The Dubarry tent is so fun. I definitely recommend checking that out.” –Madelyn Leahey

“The ‘Spin the Wheel’ at the Devoucoux booth!” –Patti Stempien

There are so many amazing vendor booths at the Sponsors Village, but a few definitely stand out to spectators.

The Dubarry Tent is an essential part of the LRK3DE Sponsors Village. It always draws a crowd mainly because of the unique way they advertise their boots. They have people standing in tubs of water in their boots to show just how waterproof they are. The tent is always decked out with wood floors and couches, and the kind people of Dubarry have offered champagne to adults.

The Devoucoux booth is another popular place, as they have a wheel that you can spin for a chance to win products such as saddle soap, stirrup leathers, and more.

Sights from the Sponsors Village. There are people and dogs everywhere! Photo by Grace Gorham.

“Tailgating, for sure. Of course, that’s only cross country day, but it’s the best part.” –Lila Brown

Tailgating is a huge aspect of the event. On cross country day, vehicles are lined up at the best spots along the rope line. Most groups who spring for a tailgate spot set up food, drinks and games as a fun way to experience the event. Even if you don’t have your own tailgate, there are plenty of kind and generous tailgaters who offer food and drinks to anyone.

My favorite tailgating tent on the XC course happens to be the Eventing Nation tent. They always have fun giveaways, snacks, starting with pastries and OJ (and mimosas and bloody marys for the adults) in the early morning. As a bonus, you might even get the chance to meet Chinch, the famous event-loving chinchilla!

We got our photo with Chinch at the Eventing Nation tailgate in 2017. They also had drinks and a giveaway! Photo by Grace Gorham.

“Definitely the cross country. You have to get the best seat by the water obstacles because that’s where you get the most action. And if you get the chance, walk the course and get autographs from the riders.” -Taylor Brinsfield

The best advice I can give you for cross country is to get there VERY early if you want a spot by the Head of the Lake, the horse park’s iconic water complex. It gets crowded faster than any other spot on course.

Here you can see a small portion of the people that are gathered around the Head of the Lake. I wanted to get a video of this one rider, and I asked someone if I could crouch underneath of them to get a video, and they kindly let me. I would suggest maybe only watching one or two riders going through here, then moving on to somewhere that you can see the action close up!

We always move around from spot to spot throughout the day so we can see how the whole course rides, making sure to note our favorite riders’ times so we don’t miss them. There are also course walks the day before cross country. The SmartPak course walk, usually featuring Boyd Martin, is always popular. Boyd gives a fantastic preview of the course and explains how he will ride certain questions on course, but be prepared for it to be crowded. If you want to avoid the crowd, seek out a smaller course walk. Also, bring a hat or something to get signed, because there are plenty of opportunities where you can get autographs from riders!

Here is a photo from the coursewalk with Boyd as he explains how he is planning to ride the question. Be prepared to run if you want to get a spot up close! Photo by Grace Gorham.

“Bourbon chicken … Horse wise — I think right after stadium watching the riders that completed the event walk up the ramp. It makes my heart really happy because there are lots of hugs and tears.” –Jj Sillman

As many people who travel to LRK3DE frequently know, the bourbon chicken is VERY popular. It comes with just the chicken or with chicken and rice, and it is something that I now have to get at least once every year I go. The sweetness of the sauce is something that just makes me think of Kentucky and watching the event on a bright sunny day. Sorry … I got a little off track with how good the bourbon chicken is!

Jj is clearly a big fan of the bourbon chicken.

Another thing that you definitely want to try to watch is the horse and rider combinations walking up the ramp after they complete their show jumping round. If they are walking up that ramp, they have succeeded in completing one of the most difficult three-day events in the world.

There are so many emotions, and it is a very powerful thing to watch. Whether they have a clear round or a round that is not their best, they completed it. Even if you are nowhere close to the level of these riders, they are people just like us. Even though this seemingly superhuman, elite group of riders walk into the ring with unwavering focus and confidence, their “human” side shows as they come out with smiles and happy tears after they complete this prestigious event. Their emotions show just how grateful they are for each and every person on their team, and most importantly, their incredible equine partners. Moments like these, though often overlooked by spectators, are reminders of why we all do this crazy, time-consuming, heart-wrenching, but fulfilling and humbling sport.

This is one of my favorite memories from the event — getting a picture with Michael Jung and Roxie in 2017 right after he won the event for the third year in a row. Photo courtesy of Grace Gorham.

Read more from Grace at her blog, murphyslawofriding.wordpress.com.

Junior Eventer Spotlight: Anna Fitzhugh Follows Her Fire

Today we shine the spotlight on Maryland-based junior rider Anna Fitzhugh. Anna competes at Training level and impresses us with her organized, hardworking, goal-oriented approach to both riding and schoolwork, as well as the team mentality she demonstrated at Pony Club Championships and while grooming for the Area II team at the 2018 NAYC. 

Want to nominate a junior for this series? Email us at [email protected] 

Photo courtesy of Anna Fitzhugh.

Anna Fitzhugh’s secret to success is her ability to stay focused. As a 17-year-old eventer from Area II, she sometimes has tunnel vision when it comes to her goals of becoming a professional rider, which isn’t a bad thing, because she knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go into the unknown to get it.

“I’m very focused. I’ve always thought, after that week in Kentucky [at Pony Club Championships], there’s no turning back now,” says Anna. “I could never do anything else. And then I just went all in. Even my own family members were like, ‘Don’t you think you should do something else?’ Still, even after a year or so, they say, ‘You could always be a vet!’ I can be kind of stubborn, but I am very focused. I know this is what I want to do.” 

Her parents, Dawn and Bill Fitzhugh, as well as her trainer Morgan Cillo, all point to Anna’s intense planning habits as the reason she is on track to meet her goals.

“One funny thing about Anna and riding is her extreme organization and scheduling,” Dawn says. “She has a huge dry erase board and will plan her time down to the minute. Just looking at that dry erase board tires me out, but Anna loves horses and likes to be busy and work hard so, for her, that’s what makes her happiest.” 

Anna has been riding for eight years and has three horses: her first pony, Penny; her Training level gelding, Ripley; and her new green mare, Lucy, whom she hopes to bring up the levels.  

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Anna extensively maps out her day at a competition on her white board. Photo by Dawn Fitzhugh.

An Early Love of Dressage Sparks Interest in Eventing

Not many eventers can say this, but Anna’s interest in eventing came through her early love of dressage. But once she got a taste of the thrill of cross country along with the attitude and mindsets of eventers, she knew she’d found her sport. Morgan Cillo, an upper-level eventer with whom Anna has trained since the beginning, was able to nudge her in the right direction.

“I always loved dressage, ever since the beginning,” Anna says. “Because I started riding with Morgan, I always did little bits of dressage and hunter stuff, but as soon as I did my first event, I just loved that feeling. The feeling you get when you’re in the startbox, and you know you’re prepared, but you get that adrenaline and you get all tingly — that’s my favorite feeling.

“I like that it’s not so much about ‘How much money do you have?’ or ‘What color breeches are you wearing?’ Instead, it’s more about ‘Are you and your horse prepared?’ and ‘Did you do all your homework?’ It’s more about hard work, and less about the money.”

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Anna with her childhood pony, Penny. Photo by Caught By A Flash Photography.

Success In and Out of the Saddle

Even though her career is just beginning, Anna has already had some great accomplishments. She’s been to the North America Youth Championships as a groom, competed at Pony Club Championships, completed the Waredaca Training Three-Day Event, traveled south to Aiken, and competed in countless events all over Area II.

One of her most memorable experiences is when she got to be a part of the Area II Young Riders team when they won team gold in 2018.

“Riding has taken me a lot of places, and not just on a horse,” Anna says. “I have a couple favorites, but one of them is when I groomed at Young Riders. I was walking Tayler Stewart and Taz into the ring, standing next to Mr. Medicott who’s an Olympian, and Olivia Dutton, holding both of them as the national anthem played and they got their gold medals. That was so surreal and I will always remember it. Mr. Medicott leaned over and nosed me, like he was saying ‘Wake up, this is real!’ and it was so surreal.”

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Anna with Mr. Medicott at the awards ceremony for Young Riders after Area II won team gold. Photo by JJ Sillman.

Anna qualified for the first time in 2017 to compete at Pony Club Championships, which took place at the Kentucky Horse Park, and the experience solidified in her mind that she wanted to pursue horses as a career.

“I always knew I wanted to ride, but after that week I just fell so in love with the sport that I thought, ‘Well this is definitely what I [want to] do.’ I didn’t have a great run there, but I got to experience being on a team. I had never been on a team before, and I just knew that this was it, this was what I wanted to do,” says Anna. “In Kentucky, as I was walking Ripley down [the chute that leads into the ring] and I show jumped him in that Rolex arena, my dad was up in the stands, according to my trainer Morgan, bawling his eyes out and saying, ‘One day she’s going to be here for the real thing.’ So that was really cool being in the grandstand arena, and hearing the announcer with the same British accent that the real announcer [at the Land Rover Kentucky Three Day Event] has.”

Neither of her parents were horse people before Anna started asking for riding lessons. Anna’s dad Bill has become immersed in the horse world through his daughter, and it has created a special connection between them.

“Her riding opened a world up for me that I never would have known. I have met so many wonderful people through Anna’s riding. Through Anna’s riding we have bonded on our many road trips early in the morning. We have our favorite places to stop on the way to shows. Each season we have favorite songs we like to listen to on the way to shows,” said Bill.

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Anna (middle) with her dad Bill (left) and trainer Morgan (right) before they traveled to Pony Club Championships. Photo courtesy of Anna Fitzhugh.

‘You Should Join Pony Club’

In addition to eventing, Anna has been greatly involved in Pony Club throughout the years, even though she originally didn’t want to join. Her mom encouraged it, but being an obstinate and determined third grader, she didn’t want her mom to be right. Six months later, after going to a meeting with Elkridge Harford Hunt Pony Club, Anna gave in and ever since then she has been hooked on Pony Club. She now has her C-3/H-B rating.

One of the reasons she loves Pony Club is because of the learning opportunities. Just a few life skills that Anna has learned are to pay a greater attention to detail, ask questions, and do lots of research.

Because of the opportunities and education she’s acquired through Pony Club, she strongly encourages other riders to join.

“I tell any person I meet, ‘You should join Pony Club,’ no matter who they are, how much they ride, or how much they want to do. Maybe I’m a little biased because I’ve met all my greatest friends through Pony Club, but I’ve loved it and have had so many opportunities, and met so many people. All of the opportunities that I’ve had have been through Pony Club,” said Anna.

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Anna with her teammates and coach Morgan at Pony Club Championships. Photo courtesy of Anna Fitzhugh.

Lessons Learned from Setbacks

Despite the many highs and accomplishments of Anna’s riding career, she has also had some setbacks.

A few years ago, on a rainy day while competing Ripley in the show jumping phase in a grass arena, she experienced what could have been a serious fall when Ripley lost his footing over a jump.

“At Shawan Downs, he slipped and fell in show jumping and crashed onto the jump, and then he wouldn’t jump for the next couple days. I went to take him cross country and he would not jump a single jump, because he was so scared,” says Anna.

To overcome the challenge of getting Ripley’s confidence back, the pair went back to basics and schooled cross country every chance they had in order to build his trust back up.

What matters more than the setbacks is the mindset that a person has to overcome their failures. For Anna, this is as simple as always focusing on the positives of a situation.

“I always look on the bright side in everything that I do, because with horses, no matter what, they’re going to get hurt, you’re going to fall off, have a bad day, or have stops, but no matter what, there’s always something you can learn. So, even if I have a stop somewhere and it was my fault, I learned that next time I have to pay more attention or do something differently,” says Anna.

Planning for the Future

As for her future goals, she has her mind made up that she will make a career out of riding, and it’s no surprise that she has a plan to get there.

“I would like to ride professionally, so my plan is to run my own horse business in a training center a couple years after I graduate college, preferably in Aiken because I love South Carolina. Until then my plan is to be a working student at Morningside since I’m graduating early from high school,” says Anna. “I’ll be a working student for [Skyeler Icke Voss] and then start college in the spring semester of 2020 at Wilson College.”

Trainer Morgan, a professional herself, believes that Anna has all of the traits and skills necessary to be successful as a professional.

“I think Anna will be successful as a professional for many reasons,” Morgan says. “For one, she’s a well-rounded person. Outside of horses, she’s an excellent student who loves to spend time with her family, travel and read. To be a successful professional, it takes so much more than being a good rider or trainer. You have to be articulate, solve problems quickly, and balance a hectic schedule. You have to be a proficient writer and be able to market yourself and your business. Anna easily has all of these skills. She is not only great with horses, but great with people. This skill is going to really help her professional career.

“Last but not least, Anna possesses an outstanding work ethic. I know how hard she works each and every day. Being any type of professional horse person requires an incredible amount of dedication, practice and work.”

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Both Anna and Ripley appear to be having a blast on cross country with her smile and his ears pricked! Photo by GRC Photo.

It’s Not All Fun and Games

On the path to becoming a professional, it’s not just all riding and training. Schooling and education are very important parts of riding, which Anna understands. She makes sure to keep up with her grades on top of riding, which is no easy task.

Anna’s secret to balancing horses with school work is simple: she uses every spare second she has in school to finish all of her homework.

“I will work through lunch, I’ll do my homework in homeroom, I’ll do it on the bus, I’ll sit in the car on the parking lot and do it before school, I will do anything to not do it at home. So when I leave at 2 o’clock, I have no school work. Usually after school I’ll go and ride probably four horses for different people, and then I come home and ride my two. I can balance riding pretty well despite having school all day,” says Anna.

As for her future plans with school, Anna’s current goal is to go to Wilson College for its equine programs.

“Wilson College has an equine business major, as well as equine journalism classes, which combine two of the things I love,” she says. “I’ve always loved to write, I’ve always loved to ride, and I really want to get a business degree, and in addition to that, they’re in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. This means they’re pretty central to all of the things that are happening. They’re two hours from the Virginia Horse Park and Fair Hill, so everything is in a manageable distance. They have a farm on campus, and they have a January term. That’s why I chose to go there, and they gave me a scholarship, which helps pay for horses.”

Be on the lookout for Anna this year at events. Her plan is to move her horse Ripley up to the new-for-2019 FEI one-star level at the Maryland Horse Trials. She took her horses in Aiken this month to contest Paradise Farm H.T. 

Despite Anna’s intense focus and rigorous schedule to meet her goals, in the end she goes the extra mile for her horses because of her genuine love for them and her sport. Riding is what she turns to for solace when all other aspects of her life may seem uncertain. Anna’s mother remembers when Anna was about 10 years old, she told her that “riding makes me forget about anything bad in life and only focus on the good.” Seven years later, Anna still has the same mentality, and she always will as she pursues her aspirations of creating a career out of her passion.

Read more from Grace at her blog, murphyslawofriding.wordpress.com.

Let’s Discuss: An Eventer Looks at Colleges

EN young rider blogger and high school Junior Grace Gorham is just beginning the process of looking at colleges and she’s feeling … more than a little overwhelmed. Can you offer any words of wisdom? Let’s discuss! 

Photo courtesy of Grace Gorham.

From Grace: 

Junior year is known by many as the most stressful year in high school. This is the year when classes get hard, you are prepping for senior year and college, and you start to realize that there really isn’t that much time until “the future.” So far, it’s not that bad with my classes, but what is really overwhelming to me is all of the “thinking about the future.” In this post I’ll share with you my thoughts about the college process and my experiences to far, and I hope that others are able to relate.

I am just in the beginning of my college search; I have visited four fairly local schools so far. With each school that I’ve visited, however, it seems that I just feel more confused! I’m not sure that it’s supposed to work like that … I have so many ideas of what I think I’m looking for in a college in my head, but after each visit, those ideas shift until I’m not even sure what I want anymore.

One of the hardest parts for me is the fact, while the USEA Intercollegiate Eventing Program is rapidly growing (there are currently 30 USEA affiliated colleges and universities), most schools still don’t have eventing teams. There are plenty of schools with IHSA teams, but very few with eventing. It’s understandable because for eventing you need your own horse, and for IHSA, you don’t — but it’s still frustrating. I’m not sure if I would be happy doing IHSA or not. Right now I feel like I would enjoy it. Obviously it’s very different from eventing, but I think I would enjoy the team atmosphere, and it would be something to help my position and become a more versatile rider.

Another decision I will have to make is whether I want to bring my own horse, compete on an IHSA team, look specifically for a school with an eventing team, or not compete at all and just be on a team recreationally. The one thing I am sure about is that I definitely don’t want to go to a college with absolutely no equine programs, whether that means it has a major or minor in equine studies, an equestrian team, or a barn on campus. That way even if I don’t bring my own horse or ride on a team, I can still have the barn atmosphere to be around or just ride for fun. I think I would feel a little lost without riding, since it’s been such a huge part of my life for over 10 years now.

The four schools that I have visited so far each have their own positives and negatives. For example, with some schools I liked their equine programs, but I didn’t feel like I fit in with the student population. With others, I liked the campus, but not the majors or courses offered. The list goes on and on. I just keep thinking about how it would be so much easier if I could just combine different aspects of each school and create my perfect school!

My ideal school would be something with a small to medium population (about 2,000 to 7,000 students), an equine program, a busy town or small city, and good educational programs. I am hoping to do something in the equine media field (read more about that here), so I think it would be best to go to a school that has a major in something related to communications and media or journalism. I still have to do more research about which major would be best; I’m not sure whether it would be better to have a more general major (such as English) or a very specific major (like an actual equine media major).

As you are probably already thinking, there’s no way I’m going to get all of this in one college. I feel like I’m on an episode of House Hunters where the people say, “I want a modern, 3,000 square foot open floor plan, with seven bedrooms and eight bathrooms, all new appliances, a huge yard, within five minutes of my work and five minutes from everything else I do, oh, and all under $200,000.”

So, I’m going to have to do some research, talk with some people, and figure out what my priorities are. Hopefully I will be able to figure out which schools I want to look at that are further away, and we can make some trips to different places. If you have gone through or are going through the decision of colleges, please leave a comment below about what your strategies were or what helped you through this stressful time.

Read more from Grace at her blog, murphyslawofriding.wordpress.com.

Product Review: Tiger’s Tongue Horse Groomer

Photo by Grace Gorham.

If you are searching for a softer alternative to a curry comb for your sensitive horse, check out the Tiger’s Tongue Horse Groomer! The Tiger’s Tongue is a flexible scrubber that gently but effectively cleans dirt, dander and sweat marks. It can be used on anything from getting mud off of white leg markings to buffing dull hoof walls.

Learn more about the Tiger’s Tongue Horse Groomer at the Epona website here. Find a list of Epona retailers here — the groomer is available from our friends at SmartPak here.

When Dread Turns to Joy

The thought of having to sell my pony has crept closer and closer in recent years.

Every time the topic came up, a feeling of dread washed over me, and I would shut down because I didn’t want anything to change. But recently, the perfect opportunity came up for my pony, Saucy. She is an older, 12.2-hand Welsh cross pony. We bought her when I was 9 years old, and we have had her ever since. I did everything with her, from hunters to eventing, and she taught me so much. I owe her everything, and she owes me nothing in return.

As soon as we pulled up to their barn, Emma and her sister came right into the trailer to see Saucy.

Saucy is the kind of pony where no one ever really believes how good she is until they see her in person. She is sassy (hence the name “Saucy”) but she isn’t anything like the pony you grew up riding who would buck you off every time you tried to canter or who would relentlessly drag you over to the nearest patch of grass. She will make sour faces and pin her ears at everyone unless they have treats. But underneath that, she loves trail rides, being groomed, and on top of everything, food. And best of all, she will happily and safely pack a little kid around who is still learning to post.

I outgrew Saucy a few years ago. She was living a semi-retired life at my friend’s barn where she would go on the occasional trail ride, but she needed more of a job. She needed a little kid who would groom her regularly, love her, and learn to ride on her.

Through mutual friends, we heard about a little girl named Emma whose pony suddenly passed away the week before, and her mom was casually looking for a new pony. It was such a sad story — the little girl had just cantered for the first time ever on that pony, and then he passed away the next day.

Emma’s smile is contagious and she was just so happy. She didn’t want to get off of Saucy!

My mom, who loves Saucy as much as I do, set up a time for Emma and her mom to meet Saucy. Emma was so excited when she came to meet and ride Saucy. Her big blue eyes were bright and filled with joy, her fiery red curls were bouncing as she bounded down to the barn to see Saucy, and that big smile with the missing front teeth never left her face. Right away, Emma wanted to get Saucy out of her stall, groom her, and feed her carrots. She put her tiny saddle, helmet, and vest on and headed out to the ring.

Emma immediately felt comfortable on Saucy. She walked, trotted, went over poles, and even cantered with me leading her. Her happiness was contagious. As I watched her trot around the ring laughing while she tried to catch her sister, who was running on the ground, a smile slowly started to spread across my face too.

When we got back to the barn, Emma announced that Saucy was her favorite out of all the ponies she had tried, and she was prepared to buy Saucy with her own piggy-bank full of money if she had to. Emma left the barn with her sister and mom, who seemed to also like Saucy. Emma’s mom contacted us a little later in the evening and said that they wanted to lease Saucy.

After seeing Emma ride Saucy, I didn’t feel any dread, sadness, or reluctance at all. Instead, I saw a little girl who loves ponies have her dreams come true, and my pony was going to have a gentle job where she will always be loved, happy, and have another enthusiastic child to teach. I was so genuinely happy for Emma, and I am eagerly awaiting all of the updates and pictures of them together.

Note — it was extremely difficult to choose one picture that encompasses all of the memories that I have with Saucy. After a solid 30 minutes of searching through all the pictures I had available, I was able to narrow it down to 25…

Read more from Grace at her blog, murphyslawofriding.wordpress.com.

 

A Summer of Silver Linings

I had so much in store for the summer: going to Tryon for Pony Club Championships, moving back up to Novice with confident cross country rounds, actually being competitive at events with improved dressage scores, maybe even thinking about a Training move up next season…

And then comes the feeling most of us know all too well.

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Murphy got lots of hand grazing and walks while he was lame.

You’re warming up your horse for an everyday ride. It starts like any other, but after a few steps, you start to notice that his steps aren’t falling quite right, and the next thing you know, you’re out of a horse for the next few weeks — or even months.

It couldn’t have been more perfect timing. Right before my qualifying event for Pony Club Championships and during the last week of school, with the whole summer stretched in front of me, but a lame horse to spend it with.

At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself because I was out of school with time on my hands, but without a horse to ride. Wow. My summer was off to a great start. Scrolling through social media seeing everyone’s fancy ribbons, adventures with their horses, and travels to far away competitions made the empty feeling in my chest grow even more.

At first I liked having time to binge watch Netflix and connect with friends I normally wouldn’t have had the time to talk to over the summer. But in the back of my mind I was growing restless.

That’s when I started uncovering some of the silver linings of having a lame horse.

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The horse I got to ride for the Show Jumping Rally was super fun!

My friends offered me their horses to ride when they heard about Murphy being lame. With these new opportunities, doors opened for me that I wouldn’t have been able to go through before. I got to go to my Pony Club’s Show Jumping Rally, riding a borrowed horse, not worrying about qualifying for Championships. I had a smile on my face the whole day, even when a storm came through and cancelled the last half of the show, because I was sitting under the tent laughing with my teammates, something I never would’ve been able to do without a lame horse.

All my life I’ve put so much pressure on myself to make the most out of the effort, time and money I’ve put into my horse. But now all of that was lifted off my shoulders, because I realized there weren’t really any expectations attached with someone else’s horse.

With others helping me so much with my less than perfect situation, I got the chance to pay it forward. I started helping out with a young horse’s training at my barn. I was able to put all of my own training to good use and give a young horse and his owner more confidence.

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I got to take my pony on a lot of bareback trail rides this summer.

If I would’ve been competing every weekend, I wouldn’t have had the time to do any of these things. As I replay the events of this summer in my mind, I can’t believe how many irreplaceable memories I’ve made.

As a bonus, Murphy is now sound. I brought him back slowly from being out of work. The first week I could only walk, and then in the following weeks I carefully added the trot and canter. I am savoring the everyday rides 10 times more because of the many days where all I wanted to do was get on and ride, but couldn’t.

I am enjoying the freedom of not having to stick to a rigorous schedule solely focused around competitions. I have become much better at reminding myself that it is good to go on trail rides and hacks several times during the week, and to balance out my lessons and practice with mental breaks for both of us.

Admittedly, it’s been hard to completely avoid feelings of jealousy, guilt and sadness as I see other young riders moving up the levels, winning blue ribbons and competing. These stressors pressure us to think we have to follow what everyone else is doing in order to succeed. I’ve learned to get so much more satisfaction from focusing on my own training, which is something that I hope other young riders make time for.

Recently I rode Murphy bareback for the first time in a while. He’s a very sensitive horse (Thoroughbreds, right?) and he definitely would not have tolerated this a year ago. In fact, the first time we attempted a bareback ride, I fell off because he took off the second I put my leg on.

My recent bareback ride probably wasn’t “social media worthy,” but you know what? I had fun. Which is the biggest silver lining of all this summer.