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Mikki Kuchta

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Aiken Bach Farm Makes the Most of Being on Lock Down

Five-star eventer Mikki Kuchta and her daughter, Advanced eventer Bridgette Miller, operate Aiken Bach Farm in Aiken, SC, and Patterson, NY, where they train eventing clients and horses from the Beginner Novice through Advanced level. With no horse trials to enter, Aiken Bach got creative during the coronavirus outbreak.

Photo by Daniel Kuchta.

The last recognized competition that any of our horses competed in was March 14th. Our winter operation runs out of our 38-acre farm in Aiken, South Carolina. On March 14th we had 16 horses in training on our farm. The announcements started coming in from equestrian organizations via email. All recognized competitions would be canceled for 14 days, and then almost immediately for 30 days … and then indefinitely.

Initially the concerns were for the horses trying to qualify to move up levels or FEI horses entered in competitions that were important and necessary to work up the levels. Since there are more National horse trials than FEI divisions, we were more concerned about the loss of FEI outings available. So, as eventers do, we talked to each client about the impact on their season and looked for a different plan that could be started after the coronavirus was under control. Little did we know how bad things were going to be!

We began to take precautions to keep our clients and staff safe, following guidelines to minimize contamination on surfaces. Many of our clients stay up north during the winter months and travel back and forth to ride or compete their horses that are with us in full training. That travel stopped. So what we were left with was a staff of five, two clients who winter in south Carolina and 16 event horses in full training. We practiced social distancing, clients used their own brushes, etc. but we did continue to train these horses as that is our job. Whether we rode them or not, we would still be together everyday to feed and care for them.

As Aiken shut down all restaurants and other activities involving the gathering of people, we pretty much stayed on the farm. With the occasional outing using precautions to locate the essentials: TP!!!! Bread, milk, eggs, etc…. The shelves in Aiken, as in much of the U.S. were bare of these essentials by the end of each day. We couldn’t find a thermometer (for humans) anywhere for several weeks. Plenty of equine thermometers on the farm … but the staff was healthy, thank goodness.

Once we had experienced the run on essentials we did start to worry about access to horse feed and hay. So we worked with the local distributors and started to stockpile extra supplies just in case! We watched the news, horrified by what was happening, and we really took our precautions seriously. But then — here you are on a horse farm with fit horses and eager riders and so you just keep training. We have goals for each horse and each rider and we continued lessons for working students and our two clients. The one thing we did stop was conditioning rides. Since the horses were not imminently headed to competition we decided to save their legs and just use regular work and trail rides to keep them fit.

There is nothing quite like competition! When you train you can have “do-overs” and you can repeat exercises and work towards perfection. But at a competition after your warm up ,you get one shot at the dressage test, or jump course or cross country test — NO “do-overs.”

Take a jumping lesson, for instance: you start small, you work on parts of a course, one piece at a time, then you raise the jumps, and eventually if that’s the plan for the day, you ride a full course … finally putting everything together that you just practiced at a variety of heights. NOT the same as competing. So almost one month after everything shut down I decided we would hold two “in barn” (just working students, Bridgette and I and our two clients) competitions.

A jumper show with a jump-off on one day and a jumper derby three days later. The energy in the barn changed. There was a level of excitement and nerves that had been absent for weeks.

I did this mostly for our wonderful working students. Working students work really hard … EVERYDAY … even when the world appeared to be crumbling around you. They are away from their families at a time when you want to be with your families and you have to keep going, no matter how you are feeling emotionally, because horses cannot care for themselves. Working students like their lessons and they work hard to become better riders, but during this time, they were deprived of their ability to test their new skills and see where they were as competitors.

That changed on April 8th: competition day at the farm. I set a jumper course that would work with minor changes from Intermediate level to Beginner Novice. There would be a vertical and an oxer, not on the course, that could be used as warm up fences. We raised them as necessary as you would in a warm up area. Then the starting signal was sounded and the first rider was on course. It was a 13 jump course with bending lines and roll backs. Each rider rode the full course, then we went to the jump-off: a seven-jump course with optional inside turns and angles available for the brave accurate riders. (All of our riders who rode these inside options did them masterfully.) I was IMPRESSED. We timed the jump-off round and had recycled ribbons and mounted awards and a prize for the fastest jump-off round of the day. Smiles all day both from proud “competitors” and from their trainers: Bridgette and myself. Affirmation of the hard work everyone had been doing. We had a total of 11 horses in the jumper show (many client horses ridden by Mikki and Bridgette).

There was a buzz that afternoon around the barn just like Saturday night at a big event, when everyone is telling the tales of their cross country round from that day. Smiles and pride and a sense of accomplishment, affirmation of hours of hard work paying off, pats and treats for our equine partners and, most of all, a little distraction from a world in turmoil.

The jumper derby was to be held in our three-acre cross country schooling field. A combination of show jumps and cross country jumps. Four courses in total from Beginner Novice to Preliminary. Each a different track measured with a wheel and marked at start and finish. This would be judged on jumping faults as well as pace. The optimum time was posted on each course map as were the speed faults for BN-T — but no one was allowed to use a watch — and let me tell you: on a relatively short course (700-900m) the window between Optimum Time and Speed Fault time is very small. 10-20 seconds for most levels. Speeds were slower than USEA parameters since our area is small and the courses were short.

Each course was appropriate for the levels — every level had a ditch and Preliminary had a lot of combinations: angled half coffin, chevron bending five-stride to corner, angled two-stride and a Weldons Wall. Beginner Novice had a 2’3” vertical show jump three strides from a half riveted ditch. Every level had a corner made from rails, standards and a barrel. Low and narrow for BN and then full sized and wide for P. The Derby had 14 horses (also with several riders riding multiple horses throughout the day).

The evening before the competition the six riders (two trainers, two students and two working students) were out walking their courses and the butterflies were released! Everyone was nervous … that good kind of nervous that competition brings out in event riders. We test ourselves, all the time. The competition verifies what we have done in our preparation. Do we remember how we should ride to a particular type of question. Do we have the correct balance and pace and line? Let’s find out — in competition.

I found these “competitions” very beneficial and really rewarding. Everyone was reminded of the nerves and pressure of competition, even though it was at home and amongst friends. As riders were tacking up and warming up, most of them were very quiet and pensive and admittedly nervous. So without paying show fees, traveling for hours and getting a hotel, we managed to create the same environment — which then led to the positive affirmation of our training.

This is how we made the best of a difficult situation.

When Eventer Problems Strike During Cross Country

What would you do if your reins came unbuckled during a cross country round? That was the dilemma Mikki Kuchta found herself in while competing in the Advanced A division at The Fork with Rubens D'Ysieux. They are just fine after Mikki took a tumble in the second water complex, and she said their plans are still a go for Rolex. Kick on, Mikki!

Mikki Kuchta and Rubens D'Ysieux at the first water complex at fence 9. If you look closely, you can see her reins had already come unbuckled by this point on course. Photo by Jenni Autry. Mikki Kuchta and Rubens D'Ysieux at the first water complex at fence 9. If you look closely, you can see her reins had already come unbuckled by this point on course. Photo by Jenni Autry.

There is a story behind my fall in the Advanced Division A at the Fork. Rubens and I were having a super round with him handling the mound combination at fence 6 and the water complex at fence 9 beautifully. Then as I galloped away from the water complex, something was banging against my boot. I looked down and realized that my reins had become unbuckled. So now I have one rein in each hand, wondering how this is going to effect my ride.

As I’m pondering this, we jump the ditch and angled brush and gallop towards the next water. I knew I would need to slip my reins as that aqueduct tends to jump big and Rubens jumps big , particularly with his hind end. But if I were to slip my unbuckled reins the risk of losing one entirely seemed very likely, so I lengthened my reins and prepared to jump into the second water. Rubens jumped big, and on landing he pulled me right over his head. Reins not lengthened enough !#%&$

20/20 after thought … Jimmy Wofford asked me why I didn’t just re-buckle them while galloping … but Rubens was still pretty strong at this point, and I was unsure about looping the reins and trying to buckle them. Then someone asked why I didn’t just stop and buckle them? Now that is a good question … but it never crossed my mind.

Eventer problems … next time we will use electrical tape, knots, maybe some bailing twine, duct tape of course and zip ties just to be sure. Fortunately neither horse nor rider were hurt.

Meet the Area I NAJYRC Team

Area 1 is proud to announce the line-up for our 2015 North American Junior and Young Rider Championships team. This year we have one two-star rider and four one-star riders.

Area I CH-Y** Rider

Madison Gallien, 19, from Lebanon, New Hampshire, rides her own 15-year-old Irish/Selle Francais gelding Beau Voyager, “Beau.” She has had him for two years, and they moved up to the Intermediate level last summer.

In September of last year, they had a strong run at their first CIC2* at Plantation Field, finishing on their dressage score. This spring they ran a couple Intermediate horse trials in preparation for their first CCI2* at Bromont, where they ran well and qualified for this year’s NAJYRC.

Madison attributes much of her horsemanship and riding successes to Joe Forrest and Deborah Dean-Smith. When asked how she became interested in riding , she said her mother rode and always had horses.

Her horse Beau is notorious for jumping over pasture fencing. We are assuming he stays inside temporary stalls! Before Madison starts any phase, she twirls a bit of Beaus mane in her fingers and scratches his withers.

Anna Billings and Aint' Misbehavin'. Photo by Gwen Billings.

Anna Billings and Aint’ Misbehavin’. Photo by Gwen Billings.

Area I Junior Team

Anna Billings, 17, from Sherborn, Massachusetts rides her own 16-year-old Thoroughbred/Canadian Sport Horse mare Ain’t Misbehavin’, “Ruby.”

She has been riding Ruby for two years and has been riding at the Preliminary level for one year. This pair had a strong finish at their first CCI*, placing sixth last November at Virginia. This spring they placed fifth at University of New Hampshire.

Anna would like to thank her long time coach Carol Mayo and Babette Lenna for all their help with her riding. Her mother’s passion for horses and riding was passed on to Anna.

She told us that Ruby makes funny faces, specifically a lip wiggle when excited. Anna’s ritual is always walking through the finish flags of cross country and show jumping. Her favorite phase? Yup: Cross country.

Katie Lichten, 17, from Hamilton, Massachusetts, rides her own 9-year-old Hanoverian/Holsteiner gelding RF Luminati, “Toothless” (from How to Train Your Dragon).

She has had Toothless for one year but starting riding at the Preliminary level two years ago. This pair most recently had a fantastic outing at the Virginia CCI*, placing fourth. They also placed third in the CIC* at Fair Hill in April.

Katie attributes her riding accomplishments to Jan Bynny and Suzie Gornall. She is yet another rider on the team who loves cross country because she likes to go fast! Katie got hooked on horses at the very young age of 2, when she and her sister had a babysitter that rode.

Toothless will perform a variety of tricks for treats: nodding his head or lifting his upper lip. Katie’s competition ritual is to knock on rails when walking her show jumping course.

Mariah Gallien, 17, from Lebanon, New Hampshire, is Madison’s younger sister. She rides her own 19-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Clonmethan Crest, “Crest.” She has had him for two years and moved up to Preliminary less than a year ago.

They qualified for NAJYRC this May at he Virginia CCI*. They have had three top-five finishes this past year at King Oak Farm, Virginia and GMHA.

She would like to thank Joe Forrest and Deb Dean-Smith for so much help with her riding. She became interested in riding because her mother Stacey always had horses.

Crest has a habit of pawing. Mariah carries a four leaf clover in her armband for good luck.

Caitlin Tierney and Killea Gynis View. Photo by Tom Tierney.

Caitlin Tierney and Killea Gynis View. Photo by Tom Tierney.

Caitlin Tierney, 16, from New York City, rides her father Tom’s 9-year-old, 18.2-hand Irish Sport Horse gelding Killea Gynis View “Gynis.”

She took over the ride almost a year ago and has been competing at the Preliminary level for less than a year. This pair also qualified fro NAJYRC at the CCI* in Virginia a month ago. They had a strong spring competing in Aiken, including winning the Preliminary division at Poplar Place in March.

Caitlin would like to acknowledge her long time trainer Heidi White and Jane Rodd for their instruction. Her passion for horses began at a county fair, when she had her first pony ride. She then proceeded to drag her father into the sport of eventing as well.

Gynis also has the habit of sticking his upper lip out. Caitlin always walks through both the start and finish flags of both jumping phases at competitions.