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Top Eventers’ Top Products, Part 3: Special Occasions

This article is brought to you by Athletux Equine. For more Athletux articles, please click here. If you missed them, be sure to check out Part I: Around the Barn and Part 2: Rider Apparel & Gear.

Now that we’ve determined how to get our closets on par with the Hawley Bennett-Awads and Auburn Excell-Bradys of the world, it’s time to move on to special occasion purchases. Whether you’re traveling cross country, competing cross country, or just looking for a handbag that won’t track hay with you everywhere you go, these next product recommendations are here to help.

Leg Protection

Jenny Caras, shown here with Fernhill Fortitude, is fan of the Majyk Equipe’s Color Elite X Country Boot. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

“Finding the right cross country boot can be a bit of a challenge. You want something that will adequately protect your horse without being cumbersome or uncomfortable. We are in love with Majyk Equipe’s Color Elite X Country Boot. Not only do they look really sporty and fun, but they offer amazing protection and the foam on the inside that helps keep their legs cool really provides peace of mind while we’re out competing.” — Jenny Caras of Caras Eventing International. Where to buy? Majyk’s website ($99.99).

“We really love using Woof Wear Smart Tendon Boot, especially for show jumping. They look incredibly sharp with the elastic and snaps. I also have found that these open fronts fit incredibly well and we don’t see them slipping at all after a ride.” — Auburn Excell-Brady of Excell Equestrian. Where to buy? Ride Away Equestrian ($80.79).

“I will not ship a horse without putting on a set of Professional’s Choice Shipping Boots. They offer great protection and are also durable enough to survive extremely long hauls.”– Mackenna Shea of Mackenna Shea Eventing. Where to buy? Professional’s Choice website ($102.95).

Recovery Tools

Allison Springer, shown here with Fairvoya S, uses Equine Advantage Sooth’N Cool Gel to help her horses recover after cross country. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

“One year at Fair Hill International all the competitors were given a small amount of Equine Advantage Sooth’N Cool Gel. I really liked the feel of it and ease of application, so I bought a big tub of it and fell completely in love. We use it after cross country under wraps, or on any other sore spots. I’ve had a lot of luck with it without wraps too. It is the absolute best.” — Allison Springer of Allison Springer Eventing. Where to buy? Equine Advantage’s website ($24.99-$69.99).

“The horses love standing under our World Equestrian Brands Equilibrium Therapy Massage Pad after a ride. They feel so much looser and I’ve noticed a huge difference since we started using it.” — Allie Knowles of Alexandra Knowles EventingWhere to buy? World Equestrian Brands website ($375)

“I am so glad I have RockTape for the horses. It makes a huge difference and there’s so much you can do to aid different areas of their bodies. It’s become a part of our everyday routine.”– Lauren Billys of Lauren Billys EventingWhere to buy? RockTape website (price varies).

Not riding equipment

Detoxwater on the road with Hawley Bennett-Awad and Jen McFall. Photo courtesy of Hawley Bennett-Awad.

“I’m obsessed with Detox Water. It is delicious, and it’s so good for you. It’s healing while hydrating, and it is the best whether you’re at a horse show or the gym.” — Hawley Bennett-Awad of Hawley Bennett Eventing. Where to buy? Detox Water website ($39.99).

“The Frankie Cameron bag is beyond gorgeous. I get compliments on it everywhere I go, and I love that it has a zip out liner so if some gross horsey thing gets spilled in there it’s easy to clean. They’re so functional without giving up any of the beauty you want in a handbag.” — Allie KnowlesWhere to buy? Frankie Cameron website ($295-$425).

“Taylor loves the Marpac Sound Machine to help her drown out noise and fall asleep. Especially in hotels it’s a really nice thing to have.” — Jennifer McFall of Dragonfire Sporthorses. Where to buy? Marpac website ($29.95-$49.95).


Heather Morris in her CWD saddle with Charlie Tango. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

“My new Ford F450 is an absolute beast. It’s definitely my favorite thing I’ve purchased recently!” — Earl McFall of Dragonfire Sporthorses. Where to buy? Find your friend neighborhood Ford dealer here (we’re just going to put several dollar signs here $$$$$).

“Your saddle is a huge investment, and I can’t recommend CWD Saddles more highly. The horses love the way they fit and they’re super comfortable and supportive for the rider. The leather is also incredibly supple and grippy, perfect for us event riders.” — Heather Morris of Next Level Eventing. Where to buy? Check out a list of CWD Representatives here ($$$).

“The GameReady System is one of the most important pieces of equipment in our program. The horses love standing in it, and the results are wonderful. It’s also incredibly nice how portable they are, so they can easily come to horse shows or travel back and forth from Ocala.” — John Michael and Kimmy Durr of Durr Eventing and Show Jumping. Where to buy? GameReady website ($$).

In closing, there are a LOT of things just as worthy of your tax refund as investments and all that other boring grown up stuff. As the kids say, you only live once, and you might as well spend it treating yourself, and your equine pals.

After that pep talk, I’m feeling pretty motivated myself. If anyone needs me I’ll be doing a little online perusing of some of our favorite equestrian retailers.


Top Eventers’ Top Products, Part 2: Rider Apparel & Gear

This article is brought to you by Athletux Equine. For more Athletux articles, please click here.

In Part 1 we discussed the everyday tools you need, and what essentials top riders are big fans of.

Now that we’ve gone over the basics that every equestrian should have, let’s talk about something near and dear to my heart … fashion! Fashion, especially in the equestrian world, doesn’t always come cheap, so it’s important to know the pieces that are worth the cash, and we’re here to help.


Lauren Billys sporting her team flag Samshield helmet at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Photo by Jenni Autry.

“I will not get on without a helmet, they are absolutely the most important part of anyone’s riding ensemble. Having a Samshield is so nice because they look so sharp, while offering amazing protection.” — Lauren Billys of Lauren Billys Eventing. Where to buy? Check out Samshield’s retailer map (price varies).

“I love my Charles Owen. It’s one thing that hasn’t changed as my riding career has grown. I really trust that these helmets will offer the best protection. I won’t get on without it.” — Mackenna Shea of Mackenna Shea Eventing. Where to buy? Here’s a list of Charles Owen retailers (price varies).

“Having hunters, jumpers and event horses it’s nice to have a helmet that we love and still fits in no matter what show we’re at. The Uvex helmets are sleek enough to look appropriate everywhere, and we feel so incredibly safe wearing them.” — John Michael and Kimmy Durr of Durr Eventing and Show Jumping. Where to buy? Check for retailers here (price varies).

Horsey Outerwear

“Our Bucas Fly Sheets keep the horses from getting bleached out in turnout, plus they keep them cool and keeps the flies off. We’ve never had issues with these fly sheets rubbing their shoulders, they are awesome.” — Matt and Cecily Brown of East West Training Stables. Where to buy? Smartpak Equine ($132.95).

“Anytime it gets chilly I’m so glad we have Weatherbeeta Blankets. All of their products are amazingly well made, so they hold up to all the fun the horses can throw at them.”— Allison Springer of Allison Springer Eventing. Where to buy? Find your closest retailer here (price varies).

“Having the horses in California means they spend a lot of time out in the sun, dealing with bugs. We use Professional’s Choice Fly Masks, and they do a really good job. They’re durable as well as comfortable for the horses, and they really appreciate the relief they provide!” — Mackenna Shea. Where to buy? Professionals Choice website ($14.95-$22.95).

Riding accessories

Mackenna Shea’s Landioso is a Frilly Fillies fan, too! Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

“Frilly Fillies! Their bonnets are handcrafted in the U.S. and can specially designed to match your show ensemble perfectly. Plus, the materials are amazing and it fits all of my horses perfectly so they can all wear it and look stunning in the show ring!” — Allison Springer. Where to buy? Frilly Fillies website (price varies).

“I only ride in Heritage Gloves. They are comfortable, and durable, and I love how grippy they are.” — Mackenna Shea. Where to buy? Find a retailer here (price varies).

“JoJo Sox are great! You can wear them under your boots, they’re super comfy and the material is awesome. Plus, they’re stylish enough to wear in a non-horse situation. I really love mine.” — Lauren BillysWhere to buy? JoJoSox website (price varies).


Hawley Bennett-Award sitting tight in her FITS Breeches on Jollybo at the 2017 Kentucky Three-Day Event. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

“FITS Breeches are the. best. They’re comfortable and fit great, and they’re really nice and grippy!” — Hawley Bennett-Awad of Hawley Bennett Eventing. Where to buy? FITS Breeches website (price varies).

“I love my Irideon Hampshire Full Seat Breeches. They fit so well, and they have awesome pockets!” — Auburn Excell-Brady of Excell EquestrianWhere to buy? Toklat’s website ($139.95).

“Hands down the most comfortable riding pants I’ve ever had are my Kerrits tights and breeches. They are so comfy I never feel restricted, and they’re stylish too so I never feel like I’m sacrificing one for the other.” — Heather Morris of Next Level Eventing. Where to buy? Kerrit’s website (price varies).

Other apparel

Matt Brown, pictured here with Super Socks BCF, is a big fan of Kastel shirts. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

“The Irideon CoolDown Icefil Long Sleeve Show Shirts are my absolute favorite. They have really stylish cuffs and collar liner, and the wrap collar snaps neatly for an elegant, crisp, flawless look in the show ring. It is the perfect summer show shirt.” — Auburn Excell-Brady. Where to buy? Toklat’s website ($99.95).

“This might sound weird but one of the most important parts of my riding outfit is my Knix Wear. They’re truly designed for athletic activity, and they’re designed for women by women, so they’re super comfortable.” — Jenny Caras of Caras Eventing International. Where to buy? Knixwear website (price varies).

“We love our Kastel shirts! They come in so many cute colors and they always look great. So we can roll out of bed, put on a Kastel shirt and look and feel professional every day. All while staying cool and being protected from the sun.” — Matt and Cecily Brown. Where to buy? Find your local Kastel retailer here.

To be continued! 

Top Eventers’ Top Products, Part 1: Around the Barn

This article is brought to you by Athletux Equine. For more Athletux articles, please click here.

It’s tax season, and you know what that means!!!

With the average American slated to get back over $3,000 for their tax refund this year, it got me thinking … How should I spend all this extra money???

Savings account? Boring.

Investments? Hard pass.

Extra student loan payments? No thanks!

With all the responsible options easily crossed off the list, I had to turn to the professionals for some help. And since equestrians are basically the savviest shoppers on the planet, I sought out some top riders to ask what products they were head over heels in love with this year.

Over the next few days we’re going to release the ultimate ultimate treat yo self checklist — equestrian style. Category by category we’ll discuss the products top riders deem worthy of abandoning the savings account.

Let’s start with some everyday tools of the trade. Shopping sprees for these items hardly count because they’re so practical. Right? Right.


“The Effol SuperStar-Shine Spray is incredible. We use it daily on the horses’ manes and tails and it keeps them manageable and silky, without any of the grime build up you get from other products.” — Matt and Cecily Brown of East West Training Stables. Where to buy? Jeffer’s Pet ($19.99).

“Grooming doesn’t just mean keeping the horses looking great, they need to feel great, too. For us, that’s part of what makes Coat Defense Daily Preventative Powder an important part of the grooming routine. It’s easy to use and incredibly effective at eliminating any fungus, odor or other coat issue.” — John Michael and Kimmie Durr of Durr Eventing and Show Jumping. Where to buy? Check out a list of local retailers here.

“With the addition of Sasha Fierce and Code of Conduct to the string, we’ve really learned what makes Bardsley’s White Wash the best whitening shampoo in the business. It’s great for spot cleaning at the horse shows, but gentle enough to use on their entire bodies for full baths.” — Hawley Bennett-Awad of Hawley Bennett Eventing. Where to buy? Bardsley’s website ($14-$55).


“There’s nothing quite as obnoxious as a saddle that rocks or slips back after sometime on the cross country course. Even a well-fitted saddle can shift if you aren’t using a high-quality breast collar. That’s why I’m so obsessed with my Devoucoux Kolibri Breast Collar. It’s a five-point breast collar which really anchors the saddle and prevents it from going anywhere. Plus, they’re absolutely gorgeous!” — Jenny Caras of Caras Eventing International. Where to buy? Contact Devoucoux tack representative Christine Phillips.

“If you really think about it, your girth is one of your most important pieces of equipment and the difference between a good one and a bad one can wind up being really dangerous. We love our Total Saddle Fit Girths, they are incredibly high quality which is important, and their shape really makes a difference, we never see rubs with these girths. They’re also so soft and cushy, which the horses really appreciate.” — Tamie Smith of Next Level EventingWhere to buy? Total Saddle Fit’s website ($129.95-$149.95).

“There’s really nothing quite like the Walsh Shipping Halters. They are so plush and soft the horses hardly even realize they’re wearing them. Not to mention they look incredible, and it’s always nice to step off the trailer looking like a million bucks.” — Hawley Bennett-AwadWhere to buy? Walsh’s website ($288.06).


Monty McFall caught red-handed. Photo courtesy of Jennifer McFall.

“I can really tell a difference when my horses are taking their Nupafeed Magnesium Supplements. It helps them stay relaxed and focused, which has been so important during all the travels we’ve had this year!” — Hawley Bennett-Awad. Where to buy? Nupafeed’s website ($13-$195).

“We really like our Grand Meadows Supplements Grand Lytes. It’s always important to replace the minerals your horse sweats out, and traveling only increases that importance. Having such a great electrolyte as part of the regular nutrition program makes our lives a lot easier.” — Dani Sussman of Aspire Eventing. Where to Buy? Grand Meadows website ($21.95-$79.95).

“I don’t know what we’d do without Platinum Performance. They have so many different amazing products that make it easy to insure all the horses on the farm are getting exactly what they need. Bonus: Dogs are a fan!” — Jennifer McFall of Dragonfire Sporthorses. Where to buy? Platinum Performance’s website (starting at $61).

Saddle Pads

“I’m in love with my Fleeceworks Sheepskin FXK Technology Half Pad. The additional wither relief is great and the quality of the sheepskin is to die for. For a rider with lots of horses having something shimmable is really important. Plus, these come in beautiful custom colors that really set you apart from the crowd.” — Tamie Smith of Next Level Eventing. Where to buy? Fleeceworks website ($186).

“It can get HOT in California, so we love the EcoGold CoolFit Jumper Pads. They fit really nicely and really seem to wick moisture away which can make all the difference.” — Hawley Bennett-AwadWhere to buy? EcoGold’s website ($195).

“I absolutely adore my Equine Comfort Product’s Cotton All Purpose Pad. The material of the pad is so soft and so durable. I use these pads on every horse in the barn with a special half pad and they really hold up incredibly well.” — Dani Sussman. Where to Buy? Equine Comfort Product’s website ($43.95).


“One of my students is also an amazing entrepreneur! She makes these adorable horse treats called Heavenly Hoof Treats. The horses absolutely love them and how cool to support a budding equestrian!” — Lauren Billys of Lauren Billys Eventing. Where to Buy? Heavenly Hoof Treat’s website (starting at $5.50).

“All the horses absolutely love their Gumbits before a ride. They make great treats for the horses and the benefits under saddle are amazing!” — Hawley Bennett-AwadWhere to Buy? Check out a list of worldwide retailers here.

Tack Cleaner and Conditioner

“Basically everything Sterling Essentials makes is in day to day use around here. Their cleaner works so well and it’s so nice to have tack cleaner that doesn’t smell like tack cleaner.” — Matt and Cecily Brown. Where to Buy? Sterling Essential’s website ($7.95-$19.95).

Prime Time Leather Care are the only leather care products we use. Having a cleaner and conditioner all in one is really convenient and the scents are all so nice.” — Allison Springer of Allison Springer Eventing. Where to Buy? Here’s a list of retailers (prices vary).

To be continued! 

Nick Cwick Heads West to Join Next Level Eventing Team

Photo courtesy of Nick Cwick.

Next Level Eventing is taking it to the Nick level with the new addition of Nick Cwick. Nick is an upper level rider with experience coast-to-coast, having worked for big names such as Dayna Lynd-Pugh at Flying Tail Farm in Gilroy, CA, and Buck Davidson on the East Coast. Eventually, Nick decided to head for the Birmingham area, beginning his home program outside the city in Anniston, AL.

“This move back to the West Coast has really brought things full circle for me,” Nick says. “I’m from Scottsdale, AZ, and have family there. I grew up riding in Scottsdale basically through Young Riders, and then headed to California to get some work experience. I learned a lot from a lot of really talented people, and then the opportunity to get qualified for Rolex came, so I went to go work with Buck and then eventually got settled outside of Birmingham.” He has spent over a decade in the Southeast but felt the change was the right move for a variety of reasons.

“I had a really great group of young riders and adult amateurs in Alabama, but I was watching the market dwindle a bit,” he explains. “I was also coming to realize that I wanted to make a life change and be closer to my family.” Making the move wasn’t a decision that happened overnight though: “I came back to Arizona around Thanksgiving and just spent time with family and friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. It gave me some time to think about what I wanted to do next, and ultimately I realized I really wanted to be around the top tier of the sport again. Luckily, I was going to be teaching a clinic for Tamie Smith at Next Level Eventing in Temecula, CA. And from there things just started to fall into place.”

Tamie Smith, Heather Morris and their team at Next Level Eventing are some of the brightest stars in Area VI, with Tamie and Heather consistently topping the scoreboards. Next Level Eventing has put itself on the map, and for Nick, the decision to join them wasn’t difficult. “When I was there for the clinic [Tamie] approached me about potentially joining her team and I just thought, ‘Here is someone who is really at the top of her game, she has incredible horses and I’ve always admired her and her program.’ I really wanted to be around that atmosphere again. When I moved back to Arizona I wasn’t really sure about my next move, but when this offer came up it just was the right thing to do.”

“Being back in California is just a wonderful opportunity for me and my career. I know, and really like, a lot of the people here. And obviously the weather is an added bonus,” Nick says with a chuckle. “Really it is just a wonderful place for eventers, the facilities are perfect for what we need. There’s lots of land for hill work and conditioning, plenty of events to attend and the coaching is top notch. Add to that the quality of life increase just being in the sunshine and warmth every day. The East Coast was great and I learned a lot and have great memories of being there, but this is home for me, it’s good to be back.”

Nick is excited to campaign his horses as well as be an additional pair of eyes for the Next Level Eventing crew. “It’s great to be able to bounce ideas off each other when you have lots of talented riders and trainers in one place. I look forward to being a resource for Tamie and her clients when she’s traveling. I look forward to building Cwick Eventing here in Temecula, as well as being a part of the Next Level team.”

With the addition of Nick, Next Level Eventing is really looking to take 2018 by storm.

Getting Jen McFall and High Times to Kentucky 3.0 Is a Team Effort

Jennifer McFall and High Times. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Jennifer McFall and High Times have big plans for 2018. And big plans means big planning.

“It just takes so much to make these big events happen. It’s a huge endeavor and a major effort for everyone involved,” Jen says of her plan to head east with “Billy,” a 14-year-old American Holsteiner gelding (Hunter x Gerda I, by Tin Rocco) owned by the High Times Syndicate, in the coming weeks. Being in California means a lot of access to top facilities and beautiful weather, but it also means a LONG haul for America’s one and only four-star event, the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event.

“We’re going to be gone training with Buck Davidson on the East Coast for about a month leading up to Kentucky, so right now we’re working hard on getting as physically fit as possible,” Jen says. “Billy goes for physical therapy three times a week in preparation for the really intense training that’s coming up. As we get closer to the event things really ramp up for the horses, and it’s my job to make sure he’s prepared for that.”

Their most recent Kentucky outing, in 2017, yielded a commendable 24th place result. The pair jumped clear around both cross country and show jumping, picking up just time faults in each.

Jen McFall and High Times at Rolex 2017. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Preparing for a cross country trek to the biggest event in the nation doesn’t just mean getting Billy prepped and ready. The entire Dragonfire team also has to be ready to step in and take over Jen’s duties while she’s away, a job they take on enthusiastically. “I really am so lucky to have this group behind me. It wouldn’t be possible without everyone stepping up.”

This year, Jen’s team has gone the extra mile. “Dr. Clair Thunes of Summit Equine Nutrition, who is one of my amazing sponsors, came to me and said, ‘Let me help you get Billy out there.’ So Summit Equine Nutrition is hosting an amazing fundraiser seminar — it’s going to be super informative and a really good time.”

Getting to any big event is not only a time consuming process, but a financially draining one. Jen explains, “Not only are you looking at the costs associated with an event, but you also have to factor in the price of being gone and losing revenue for that time period. It’s a big sacrifice that is being made in order to chase these dreams.”

Jen and High Times at Rolex 2014. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Jen has held fundraisers to reach her four-star goals in the past, having contested Kentucky with Billy two of the last three years. “This year I have so many sponsors coming forward to help, it’s just been amazing. Along with Summit Equine hosting the seminar we also have an amazing silent auction going on.”

Getting to the highest levels of any sport take a lot of hard work and dedication, which to Jen goes without saying. “The work and the dedication are obvious, but my advice to anyone who has big goals and big dreams would be something that I still have a tough time doing: Ask for help from those around you!

“We are lucky as eventers to have the best community full of people who want to help, who want to see you succeed and achieve your goals,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to ask for support when you need it, people are so generous and so great, they will happily come forward and help you in any way they can. It’s one of the things that makes this sport so remarkable.”

My Lesson on Hawley Bennett-Awad’s High Duty

Hawley Bennett-Awad and High Duty. Photo by Sherry Stewart.

Let me start by saying this, I LOVE taking riding lessons. Ever since my parents signed me up for a weeklong horse-y day camp at a local Saddlebred stable I’ve been in love with everything about lessons.

Having someone there focusing on you and your horse and helping you to become better is so much fun for me. Being the center of attention is great, plus learning new skills and mastering old ones are important aspects of horsemanship, so lessons are the best thing ever. Were it up to me, I would never ride without a pair of expertly trained eyes pointing out everything I’m doing wrong.

Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for my checking account) this is simply not a realistic way to ride, so when I get the chance to ride with an excellent instructor I jump at the opportunity. Even if that instructor isn’t necessarily focused on my chosen discipline, I strongly believe there is something that can be learned from riding with everyone you can, be that a top tier dressage trainer, an accomplished hunter rider, or an experienced natural horseman.

So when Hawley Bennett, the veteran Canadian Olympic eventer, invited me to Copper Meadows for a flatwork lesson on her Intermediate super horse High Duty (who is for sale!), I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Primarily I consider myself a hunter rider. I love to hang out in two-point, and there’s nothing quite as appealing to me as floating the reins to my horse and letting them poke their nose out as we canter along, so I knew I was in for a bit of a butt kicking. Hawley graciously allowed me to lesson in a hunt seat saddle so I didn’t make too big a fool of myself, but let me tell you, my abs were still awfully sore after all that sitting canter.

High Duty is an exceptionally nice horse; right from the moment I swung my leg over I could tell he was well schooled and responsive. Hawley had me begin with a forward marching walk in a long and low frame. “I can do that!” I thought, loosening my reins and swinging my hips to encourage a bigger step.

“Nope, don’t drop the contact.” I hear through my earbuds as Hawley kindly corrected me. “Long and low doesn’t mean no contact, he needs to stretch INTO the bit and stay in a frame while he marches on.” Well, fine, but that’s a whole lot harder! I corrected myself and HD responded beautifully, floating around the arena for a while before Hawley instructed me to ask for a working trot.

HD is fancy, and his ground covering stride was comfortable and allowed me to not look too terribly out of place. Hawley put us through the paces, instructing us to make several 20-meter circles and work on getting a true bend. As we warmed up she had me play with his gear shift, switching from collected sitting trots to working trot and then elevating my post to bring out his gorgeous extended step.

All through this I was told to focus on stretching tall and connecting my seat bones with the saddle instead of my using my hunter-y more closed hip angle to post. As challenging as it was to remain upright I could really feel a difference in the contact through the bridle when I was riding correctly.

As we shifted into a downward transition Hawley explained, “I can’t stand horses that pull, so I ride them off my leg and seat as much as possible. I want them to be schooled enough to go in plain snaffles as much as they can, they have to have soft mouths. So as you go to walk, sit tall and close your leg as you close your fingers on the reins, think about him marching forward into the transition.”

That picture of his hind legs swinging forward into the transition helped with other transitions as well. Lifting off into the canter I thought about the same thing, and was able to achieve clean and uphill departures, a testament to his training and natural ability. His canter was lovely to ride, forward and powerful without tossing me up into two-point (despite my desire to do that anyways).

Hawley reminded me to stay connected to the saddle and swing my hips to open his stride. While my hip flexors protested a bit (“You don’t do this enough for us to go along with this!”) once I got the feel down it made it much easier to sit the canter when I stayed flexible through my lower body.

As we cooled down Hawley took me on a ride around the Copper Meadows cross country course and we discussed some of the challenges that we both encounter as shorter riders. “When you have a shorter leg you have to find what works best for you balance wise. Sometimes that means I ride a hole shorter on one horse than another, or change my stirrup length often through a ride depending on what I’m working on. It is even more important for shorter riders to learn to sit up and back, especially on the way to a fence. When you don’t have as much leg to wrap around a horse you have to support it with your body.”

I thought back to the numerous times I’d watched hunter riders with envy as they hovered in two-point on a loose rein all the way to base of the fence, only to nearly fall off (or sometimes actually fall off) when their horse chipped the distance or decided those straw bales were just a bit much. For an event rider that moment before the fence could end much more catastrophically, and their “defensive” position is a result of that knowledge. Getting in the backseat might rub George Morris the wrong way, but at only 5’1” and with short stubby legs it makes sense for a rider like myself to use my upper body to make up for my shortcomings (get it) in my lower body.

Hawley and I also discussed what she looks for in a student. She has riders of all ages, levels and abilities, and for a top competitor it’s always refreshing to see her social media posts supporting her students whether they’ve just completed a challenging gymnastic exercise or finished running their first 4* at Kentucky. “If someone wants to learn, if they want to get better, then I want to help them. But I’m not interested in doing it for them, they need to be prepared to work hard. I’m not going to want it more for them than they do for themselves.”

While I’m probably not trading in my standing martingale and hoof polish for an air vest and leg grease any time soon it was a great experience seeing how the eventing half live and learning from one of the top riders in the sport. If you get a chance to ride with Hawley as she crisscrosses North America teaching clinics, take it!

3, 2, 1 … Go Eventing in 2018! Top Riders Share Their Resolutions

This article is brought to you by Athletux Equine. For more Athletux articles, please click here.

With the year turning over from 2017 to 2018 many of us are thinking “OK, what’s next?” In fact, in some of the Nation, dreaming about show season is all that’s keeping us warm on these frigid winter days and nights.

If you find yourself having to imagine a gallop out of the start-box in order to get motivated, maybe some inspiration from your favorite riders would help? The top riders in the sport use the down time to reflect on horse shows past, and mentally prep for horse shows future. We asked some of our Athletux riders to let us in on their resolutions for 2018.

Earl and Jen McFall, along with their daughter Taylor of Dragonfire Farm in Wilton, CA, have had a LOT of exciting moments in 2017 to reflect on, and they have big goals for 2018. Earl’s New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to be more like Michael Jung. He says he almost has the hairstyle down …

Photo courtesy of Dragonfire Farm.

No comment on the hair, but surely all of us could resolve to be a more Michael Jung-like in 2018. As for Jen, she’s going for something ambitious, but still attainable: “I’d really like to be one of the top three McFall riders in the world.”

I’d say she’s safe with that one.

Fellow Californian Hawley Bennet-Awad in Ramona, CA has a resolution that my organized horsey friends will appreciate: “This year I’m going to enter every event the day entries open.”

Hawley Bennett-Awad and Jollybo. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

With mounts like Jollybo and Sasha Fierce I’d be eager to enter too!

Auburn Excell-Brady of Excell Equestrian in San Juan Capistrano, CA is ready to see what 2018 has in store and she’s learned to appreciate the journey as much as the destination.

“For 2018 I really want to resolve to carry forward the attitude I’ve had in 2017,” she says. “I’m more relaxed at this point in my career than ever before, and it’s been great to watch the horses respond to that. I want to stay focused on taking my time and letting the horses enjoy the process.”

Photo courtesy of Excell Equestrian.

Matt Brown of East West Eventing in Chadds Ford, PA, also is resolving to be better overall in 2018: “For next year, I want to work every day to become better than I was last year without excuses. I also want to be there for my friends and family in 2018.”

For riders, resolutions like Auburn’s and Matt’s are always applicable. Working hard and taking the time to enjoy that hard work can make the difference between a successful year and one that leaves us feeling burnt out and defeated.

Matthew Brown and Super Socks BCF. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

For Olivia Loiacono in Bonsall, CA, December 31st isn’t the only day of the year to focus on personal improvement: “I’m not huge on resolutions. I try my very best to improve every day. Whether that be my riding, my business, or just simply being a good human.”

Olivia Loiacono and Subway at Rolex in 2011. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

And with that, we’ll let you consider what you’ll resolve to improve in 2018. Rather it be a specific goal, like getting entries in as early as possible, or an overarching resolution to simply be better, like Matt or Olivia. Whatever your resolution is, may thinking about it keep you warm as we enter a New Year!

Surviving the Holidays

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the land

The eventers all scurry to get to their plans.

One more quick night check;

But hurry up quick,

Get everyone water, make sure no one’s sick.

And then off you go, through the snow and slush,

To get to your party without too much fuss.


But what should you do once you arrive?

Not a horse person in sight, how will you survive?

If you find yourself without much to discuss,

Outside of saddles, muck buckets, and thrush;

Well we’re here to help, we’ve enlisted the best;

To give you ideas, make sure you’re not stressed.

Advice from top riders, to help get you through,

Without further ado:


Matt Brown, and his wife Cecily, avoid politics as well as all things horsey.

They listen to Podcasts and pick a good one,

They’ll discuss it in depth. It’s a whole lot of fun!

Have a few drinks, to loosen you up,

Then enjoy conversation about what’s in your cup.


Olivia Loiacono, of Bonsall, CA

Has her own advice for surviving the day.

“A nice glass of wine and watching football!”

What a great idea! Not too big or too small.

Pick a team that you like, or even one you can’t stand,

And discuss the game with a glass in hand.


Another idea, that many riders can employ,

Is to discuss some TV that most seem to enjoy.

Game of Thrones won’t be on til 2019,

There’s something to complain about this Christmas Eve.

There are hundreds of great shows you can discuss

(Some may even involve a horse or two, that’s a plus!)


Now if after all this you still find yourself worried,

Auburn Excell Brady has more advice in a hurry!

“Just talk about horses anyways!” She says with a laugh.

Non-horse people are fascinated by jumping and piaffe!

So pull out your phone, show off pictures, it’s freeing.

Just try not show anyone that picture of your gelding’s last bean.

Meet Pandora, the Barbie Dream Horse of West Coast Eventing

This article is brought to you by Athletux Equine. For more Athletux articles, please click here.

Photos courtesy of Athletux.

Hang on a second, did Barbie give up the ride on her loyal palomino?

Wait a second … I don’t remember Barbie’s horse (side note: quite a bit of conflicting information out there on this horse’s name. Dancer? Dallas? Tawny?) having a hind end like that …

Well that’s because the adorable, spunky and incredible little mare on the right isn’t a fictitious plastic doll, but instead an exciting 7-year- old Swedish Warmblood owned by Laura Boyer and ridden by James Alliston of Alliston Eventing in Castro Valley, CA.

James Alliston and Pandora at Galway Downs. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Pandora is a well-loved member of the crew at Alliston Eventing, and after her impressive win on her dressage score in her first Intermediate at Fresno County Horse Park Horse Trials, the flashy duo is getting some much deserved attention.

“Everyone makes fun of (James) when he rides her because she’s little and palomino but she’s seriously so cool,” said James’ girlfriend and fellow trainer Helen Bouscaren.

Pandora’s results speak for themselves. With top ribbons all up and down the West coast in the Prelim and CIC1* divisions and that impressive Intermediate debut Pandora has proven herself a force to be reckoned with, all 15.2 hands of her.

With a bright future ahead of her, Alliston Eventing head groom Golly Martin recalled a time from Pandora’s past that really sums up the feisty mare’s personality: “She was so sassy as a baby. She used to always follow Kendra into the tack room when Kendra was working on the breeding farm where she was born.”

Baby Pandora. Photo provided by Golly Martin.

Kendra being Kendra Boyer, whose mother, Laura Boyer, owns Pandora, as well as her sire and dam.

Prostor, Pandora’s sire, was a nationally ranked hunter before being gelded and sold to an amateur when he was nine. A 1993 Russian Trakehner, Prostor is still a picture of elegance today. At 17 hands, the big chestnut has a refined look, and an impressive career to go along with it. Competitive in both the hunters and dressage, looking at Prostor’s long career gives a pretty good idea where his daughter might have picked up some of her tenacity. Prostor competed in the hunters and dressage with James well into his teens. In fact, at age 19 he received a Novice level dressage score of a 15. Even though Prostor was gelded, he still has frozen semen available, which is how he was bred to Pandora’s dam, Camellia E.

Camellia E, or “Marilyn,” a Swedish Warmblood mare, was purchased as a gift for Kendra as a 3-year- old and had a successful career as an A-circuit jumper.“Like any mare she can be a little particular, but she’s a super sweet girl. She’s a really talented jumper and was a great broodmare,” said Golly. Pandora is Marilyn’s only foal.

Pandora and mommy Marilyn. Photo provided by Golly Martin.

With impressive bloodlines and an elite rider with James, Pandora had some distinct advantages as she started her career, and she’s certainly lived up to her promise. “With James, Pandora is a super sweet little lady who tries so hard for James,” Golly said. “She is so willing on the flat, and super smart, learns very quickly. She is a phenomenal jumper, it’s so neat to have a smaller horse with that much heart and talent. She loves cross country, her ears are always perked and looking for the next fence.”

In watching any of her cross country videos or even just looking at Pandora in photos, it’s easy to see her enthusiasm for her job. Here they are at Fresno County Horse Park H.T. earlier this month, where Pandora clinched 1st place in her Intermediate debut:

Despite her enthusiasm, Pandora is a no nonsense type of gal. “She knows her job and wants to get to work,” Golly explained. “She’s straightforward no matter where we are; she just wants to get in the ring and show off, or go jump some cool jumps.”

With Pandora being on the smaller side and James Alliston being on the taller side, the height differential has the potential to add a challenging component, but James says Pandora’s heart and athleticism negate her small stature: “She has a really good size stride for her size, and she doesn’t feel small. She is a small package, but has the ability to compete with the more traditionally sized horses. It’s part of her appeal — everyone who sees her is instantly enamored, and comes to watch her through all of the phases.”

James Alliston and Pandora. Photo by Shelby Allen.

It wouldn’t be story about Pandora and James without mentioning her ongoing love affair with Happenstance, James’ 3* winning horse owned by Mary McKee. “They love each other. They’ve been stabled together at a few shows and we always catch them playing above the stall wall, or with their noses pressed to the same spot whispering sweet nothings to each other. She has very good taste in men!” Golly laughed.

So what’s next for James and Pandora? “She’s got a few more Intermediates scheduled for 2018, and then a 2* at some point,” James said.

The little mare has the heart and talent to make it far in the sport, and we can’t wait to see what this real life Barbie horse and her Ken can accomplish together.

Eventers Give Thanks for 2017 Blessings

This article is brought to you by Athletux Equine. For more Athletux articles, please click here.

Allison Springer and Arthur. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Life with horses isn’t always easy. The days are long and horses aren’t the best at letting us know all the hard work is appreciated. On those days where it seems like the stall mucking, leg wrapping, supplement portioning, and tack cleaning are endless it can be difficult to remember just why it is that we’re so in love with this crazy sport.

Allison Springer has had a roller coaster of year in 2017 — from a top placing at the Wellington Eventing Showcase with Arthur to a win at Bromont on Lord Willing, plus the announcement she will be coaching Region IV Young Riders. And who could forget that emotional farewell as she retired Arthur at Rolex. Beyond the trophies and cheering crowds, Allison finds herself most thankful for the people that she has been connected to through horses.

“This year I am thankful for horses because of the many wonderful relationships they have created!,” she says. “I am eternally grateful for my family who have always been my rock and have also always been awesome fun people who make me really happy! The horses have also brought in the most amazing crew of girls that work for me and are really an extension of my family! I am so thankful to have Sarah Zimmer, Jill Thomas, Olivia Caspers and Maddie Hogan (and all the other amazing girls that have been with us through the years).

“My students, sponsors and owners have all come to me through horses and I consider these people my family and some of my very best friends! This year very good horse friends of mine introduced me to my boyfriend and I feel incredibly blessed to have connected with this amazing person!

“And finally, I cannot thank the horses enough for all the blessings and life lessons they have taught me. Sitting on a horse’s back is my church and connection to the world; they are such extraordinary animals that remind me every day how precious life is and the many things I have to be thankful for! Happy Thanksgiving!”

Allison’s entire team all has something to look thankful for as they look forward to 2018. With plans for horses to move up through the levels and the search for a new head groom the Allison Springer Eventing crew has an exciting year as the build on the successes of 2017. We caught up with some other top riders to see what it was that horses brought them this year and asked them to send us some pictures that capture what they’re feeling thankful for.

Auburn Excell Brady of Excell Equestrian

“This year I’m thankful for horses because they help me to become my best self as a rider, trainer and coach. I love the challenges and rewards of working with each horse and rider.”

Photo courtesy of Auburn Excell Brady.

John Michael Durr of Durr Eventing & Show Jumping

“This year I’m thankful to horses for giving me a life I get to share with my wife Kimmie. I’m also so grateful for the eventing community; the family our sport creates that gives us a lot to be thankful for.”


Photo courtesy of John Michael Durr.

Jennifer McFall of Dragonfire Farm

“This year I am thankful for horses because they push you to think in new ways. Particularly about yourself and your capabilities, if you let them.”


Jennifer McFall and High Times. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Heather Morris of Next Level Eventing

“This year I’m thankful for horses because of all the wonderful people I have met along the way.”


Photo courtesy of Heather Morris.

Jenny Caras of Caras Eventing International

“This year I’m thankful for horses because they teach me something new every day.”


Jenny Caras and Fernhill Fortitude. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.


Olivia Loiacono of OKL Eventing

“This year I’m thankful for horses because they constantly humble and inspire me.”

Photo courtesy of Olivia Loiacono.

Mackenna Shea of Next Level Eventing

“This year I am thankful for horses because they have taken me places I had only dreamt of and introduced me to so many amazing people, not only this year but every year. I wouldn’t trade this year’s experiences for the world. Cheers to 2017.”

Photo courtesy of Mackenna Shea.

Cheers indeed! So grab a glass of wine, a plate with way too many carbs, and enjoy some time thinking about what makes you thankful for these four-legged creatures!

Meet Hawley Bennett-Awad’s Sweet ‘n’ Spicy New Ride Sasha Fierce

This article is brought to you by Athletux Equine. For more Athletux articles, please click here.

Layla’s “Sasha Fierce” side comes out to play in a jump school with Hawley Bennett. Photo by Danielle Surret.

Powerhouse to the jumps but sweet as can be in her stall, Sasha Fierce truly embodies the alter-ego persona Queen Bey had in mind when she released the album the little gray mare is named for.

“She is such a sweet mare on the ground, we wanted to give her a really sweet barn name,” owner Kathie Hackler says of “Layla.” “But when she gets to work she’s completely different. She’s so focused on the job and well, fierce. So when it was time to give her a show name I turned to David and said ‘There’s no choice, she’s got to be Sasha Fierce.’”

David being David Acord of New Heights Training Stables in Pleasanton, California, who helped Kathie find and purchase Layla as an upper level prospect in 2011: “We were looking for something that could go to Kentucky one day, and Layla absolutely fit the bill. She’s such a great horse.”

David had the ride on Layla until this fall, making the sacrifice to send Layla to Hawley Bennett-Awad in order to focus on his young family and burgeoning coaching business.

“It was a tough decision to send her to Hawley, but it was the right thing to do,” he explains. “She’s such an incredible horse that she really needs someone with more time and the ability to instill confidence in her through building a really strong relationship. I know Hawley always liked her, and when we realized it would be best for Layla to go somewhere else to reach her full potential, Hawley was the obvious choice.”

Layla’s “not so fierce” side, with Hawley’s dog Bento. Photo courtesy of Hawley Bennett-Awad.

Kathie agrees. “It was hard sending her away, like sending a child off to college, but I did a lot of research and the fact that Hawley is such a capable rider and is located at Copper Meadows made the decision even easier.”

Layla had a strong career with David, reaching the two-star level this year at Fresno County Horse Park in February. David says, “We had a couple really nice starts, but the last couple outings weren’t as great. For as bold as she is she just lost some confidence she needs to gain back. Hawley’s access to amazing cross country facilities will really help Layla be the best horse she can be.”

He adds, “She can be feisty in dressage, and needs a rider that knows how to ride that type of horse. Hawley gets along with her beautifully and I can’t wait to see what they do together.”

“I love riding her — she really ticks every box for what I like in a horse,” says Hawley of her newest mount.

Everyone has a type, and for Hawley, Layla is a great embodiment of what an upper level horse should be. “She’s got this wonderful attitude in the barn, she’s so quiet in her stall and so easy to be around. But then you take her out cross country and you see a completely different side to her. She knows her job and wants to do it. I love that in a horse.”

And at 12 years old she has plenty of time to go the distance with Hawley in the irons. “She’s young still, and was started a bit late so there’s even less mileage there,” Hawley says. “I can absolutely see her being a team horse, going to the Pan Ams or even the Olympics in a few years. She’s definitely the type of horse you want to build a relationship with, so we’ll take our time and get to know each other for a bit. I’m just super excited about her and so grateful to David and Kathie for choosing me to take her on.”

Hawley and Layla with David O’Connor and Susie Hutchinson during a training session last week. Photo by Danielle Surret.

Kathie and David are just as excited to watch the pair grow. “Hawley’s someone I’ve admired for a long time. She’s obviously an incredibly talented rider but she has so much integrity and is also a wonderful person,” David says. “I knew Layla would respond well to how she rides, and I really think they’re going to be a pair to watch.

Kathie concurs, “I really think Layla wants it, she wants to be a top horse, and Hawley wants that for her as well. I can’t wait to watch them, it’s going to be so great.”

“To have an opportunity like this, on such a great horse, is something pretty rare,” Hawley says of the partnership. “When David called me I actually asked him if he was sure, it’s just not something that happens. It takes so many people to develop these horses to this level, and Layla would not be the horse she is today were it not for the great job David did with her, and the amazing support system Layla has with Kathie as an owner.

“It’s amazing the dedication they both have to the horse and I just feel incredibly lucky to be a part of the team. These friendships and partnerships we make are just so incredibly important and it’s critical to keep all the doors open. David was vital to developing Layla, and vital to sending her to me. If she makes it to Kentucky, he’ll be in the owner’s box.”

Whether she’s snoozing in her comfy stall in the Southern California sunshine, or cruising around the cross country course at Copper Meadows, Sasha Fierce has quite the fan club. And with a name inspired by the likes of Beyoncé, there’s no telling what she’s capable of.

Something for Everyone at Excell Equestrian

This article is brought to you by Athletux Equine. For more Athletux features, please click here.

Photo by Lisa Takada.

Balancing a personal life (or a resemblance of one, at least) and a professional riding career is not a task for the faint of heart. For Auburn Excell Brady of San Juan Capistrano, it’s all a juggling act that she’s happy to take on in order to find success within the sport of eventing, and it’s an opportunity to give riders of all ages and levels an opportunity to succeed with horses.

Auburn currently operates out of two facilities in San Juan Capistrano, Sycamore Trails and The Oaks. The Oaks was a recent addition to her program, adding another top quality facility with which to attract more clientele.

And her clientele is anything but colorless. Auburn spends her time coaching up and coming young riders, adult amateurs and Pony Club kids because she feels it is vital to encourage people of all walks of life to experience eventing.

“I was always really interested in Pony Club because of the horsemanship and horse management aspect of it,” Auburn says. “I really appreciated that these kids were learning and getting an education about horses. I wanted my riders to gain more knowledge about horsemanship, having a couple of hours each week to study and learn together in a group is developing knowledge and a skill set as well as a fun bonding opportunity.”

She now operates Excell Equestrian’s Pony Club Riding Center out of the Sycamore Trails facility, and with the help of assistant trainers Stephanie Atkinson and Rebecca Farley the program is thriving with kids who are hungry to learn everything they can about horsemanship and riding. The well-oiled machine also runs thanks to the help of Joanne Thorman, who keeps everything running smoothly at the barn as well as with the Pony Club, with the help of the parents of the Pony Club kids.

“This team really allows me to focus on moving forward with my goal of finding a partner I can ride at the upper levels,” Auburn said. “It really helps me balance all the aspects of running a competition barn and creates an environment for success for everyone involved. I have found that I need a good team of professionals to help steer the ship!”

With the addition of The Oaks to her facility roster, Auburn plans to have a select group of clients and horses that train out of the state of the art farm. “My plan is to train and prepare the competition horses at The Oaks — it’s just a great facility that caters to the equestrian world. I really enjoy gathering inspiration from other professionals. It’s also great because we have access to training with (show jump riders Joie Gatlin and Morley Abey), who are masters of their disciplines. I really appreciate them bringing me to The Oaks and all of their show jumping coaching.” Auburn also works with Wilma Blakely for her dressage, ensuring that her education is as well-rounded as it can be.

“Sycamore Trails will continue to have the training and Pony Club program out of it, so there is literally something for everyone with our program.”

What is the recipe for success when it comes to balancing so many plates in the air? “It really comes down to having a team of good people,” Auburn says. “I try to be really consistent with the team so that everyone knows what to expect, and I try to be really clear with parents about their child’s progress and expectations. We make a plan each week and we communicate really well so that everything can run as smoothly as possible.”

“I have definitely had to learn to be patient,” she continues. “I am all about developing partnerships, both with my horses and with my team, and that is a process that takes time. I’m a goal driven person — I’m still looking for my horse of a lifetime to take on that top level. But I have to be realistic and know how to manage my business here to set myself up.”

Auburn is also quick to credit her husband, Sean Brady, who has stood by her side in solidarity through thick and thin and the normal, unpredictable ups and downs of the horse world. “I really couldn’t do any of this without his support, I got really lucky,” she says.

At the end of the day, Auburn has learned how to scrap her way through to achieve her goals. An upcoming trip to Argentina looms to find some new prospective competition horses, and her business continues to grow. She has found a way to pursue her personal competition goals while also helping others start the journey in which she found so much satisfaction many years ago.