AJ Dyer
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AJ Dyer


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About AJ Dyer

Visionaire is one of the foundation writers of Eventing Nation from the very early days in 2010. She has ridden up to Advanced level and spent six years as head groom for Dorothy Crowell. After a few years in the Thoroughbred industry, she now spends her time writing for EN, riding a few nice OTTBs, and working with her husband's hay business, A.T. Acres Farm.

Latest Articles Written

Soggy and Sunny at Rocking Horse March HT

It was a soggy, sunny weekend at Rocking Horse’s March horse trial.  Saturday saw massive storms move through around lunch time, forcing the cancellation of the remaining show jumping, cross-country, and a 3-hour delay on dressage.  Novice, beginner novice, and tadpole divisions were reduced to a combined test and many competitors just went home, unwilling to sit through hours of rain, lightning and swampy conditions just to ride a dressage test later that day.  Can’t say I blame them!

Hats off to the organizers, officials, and volunteers who pulled together to save the event as best they could.  Once the storms passed, the sun actually came out and we were able to splash through our dressage tests.  There was much confusion in warm up, as no one knew who had scratched and ride times were up in the air, but everyone did their best.  My horse had some nice moments in his test, and conquered some movements he found challenging, but I know we could have had a few points more in places, too. Isn’t that always the way… walking out at A with the “IF ONLY…!” feeling.  After sixteen years in this sport, I still long to walk out on a long rein someday feeling like my horse and I absolutely nailed it from start to finish.  Maybe next time. The test wasn’t too bad, though, earning a very respectable score in the low thirties.  I’ll take it!

Sunday was a long day, but the weather was beautiful.  We ran cross-country early in the morning, and sat around for six hours until show jumping in late afternoon.  Cross-country went well; there were four combinations on course which I felt were relatively challenging for the level.  Bounce steps at Training?  A bench, turning five strides to a corner (numbered A-B)?  A half-coffin is normal…but set at one stride, with terrain?  My horse is experienced at the level, and nearly ready to move up, so I was okay.  But what about the first-time Training level horse?  I cannot imagine doing my horse’s first Training and seeing bounce steps on course…I normally wouldn’t school that question until approaching Preliminary.  Talk about unprepared!  [Side note: The USEA “suggests” that steps at Training level be one-stride or more] Nonetheless, it was an inviting set of bounce banks, and it caused no problems that I’m aware of, and there was an alternate option for “B” if your horse went up A and had a stop.  However, you *had* to attempt the direct route to accomplish A, there was no possibility of avoiding the bounce bank altogether.

Show jumping was a smooth, flowing, friendly course. Rails were uncommon, and the two-stride to two-stride triple rode well for Preliminary.  It was reduced to a double for Training, and we had the addition of a liverpool (and option) for the final fence on course.  My horse had a couple strong moments, but I was able to make him wait when necessary.  He jumped clear and finished on his dressage score.  All in all, it was a very good weekend and I’m contemplating moving my horse up to Preliminary soon.

Horses and Self-Destruction

Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com

Have you ever heard the saying, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans?”  Along those lines, enter your horse in a horse show or put him up for sale, and watch what damage he can to do himself!

As you may have surmised from tales of a one-day event, I still have Aero, the 2009 OTTB gelding I acquired in Dec 2012.  I decided to sell him last summer, and put him on the market.  He had several interested parties and a viewing appointment lined up, and then wouldn’t you know, he did what all good sale horses do: he injured himself.  Somehow he managed to slice his right front coronary band, creating a deep gash about two inches long right at the hairline.  He was sound on it, but it definitely needed some stall rest and careful management to heal.  He had a week of stall rest, a week of turnout, and then gently back into work after a total 3 weeks off.  By then, most potential buyers had made other plans and found other horses.

The day before his first trial date, Aero sliced his coronary band.

The day before his first trial date, Aero sliced his coronary band.

Aero's foot 8-21

Aero’s foot a week later. Healing well, but still fragile, requiring bandaging and limited movement.

I did meet one person who came to try him– and liked him very much.  We worked out an extended trial/lease type agreement beginning in mid-October, where she would keep him at her barn in Georgia.  Unfortunately, the deal fell through in February and Aero came back to me.  Due to the worst winter in history, he was a bit out of work and definitely missing regular turnout.  It took a little while to get him back in top condition, but he’s been looking super lately.  And after completing his first baby beginner novice event (finishing 3rd) I knew it was time to list him for sale again.  I was just working out the ad text in my mind, and waiting for a nice sunny day for some photos, when I noticed Aero’s right front knee was swollen the size of a grapefruit.

Aero's foot injury has grown out almost completely.

Aero’s foot injury has grown out almost completely.

Horses have such impeccable timing.  Somehow Aero had sustained a puncture wound on the inside of his right knee, and the resulting infection blew up the whole inside of his leg.  Now, after two days of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and bandaging, the leg is starting to resemble its normal shape instead of a stovepipe.  He remains sound on it, and should be right as rain again within a week or so.  Maybe then I can make another ad for Sport Horse Nation…before something else goes wrong!

Isn’t it funny how a horse can be completely fine, but the instant you want to sell them or show them, suddenly they fall apart?



Total Saddle Fit: How a Girth Can Make a Difference

Shoulder Relief Girth photo via TotalSaddleFit.com Shoulder Relief Girth photo via TotalSaddleFit.com

Several weeks ago, a Promoted tweet popped up on my Twitter feed.  It was an informative article on saddle fitting, and I found it helpful enough to pass along here on EN.  Total Saddle Fit sells an anatomical shoulder-relief girth, but there was no mention of the product in the article; it was commercial-free advice on saddle tree sizing.

The post received over two thousand views on EN, so apparently many readers found it interesting as well.  The next day, I received a surprising email from Justin of Total Saddle Fit LLC.  He thanked me for linking to his site, and offered to let me try his saddle fit-enhancing Shoulder Relief girths.  I was impressed with the company’s reputation and customer service, so I was excited to try the product and see how it measured up.

The girths were on back order, so it took a few weeks for them to arrive: a short black dressage girth, and a long brown jumping girth.  My first impression was WOW, nice leather!  The underside padding is incredibly soft, smooth, and flexible calfskin.  The outer side is sturdy full grain bridle leather.  The roller buckles feature strong doubled elastic on both sides. And true to form, the girths did have an anatomical squiggle shape to contour forward and around the horse’s elbows, while allowing the billets to sit farther back.

The company claims that the Shoulder Relief Girth’s contoured shape allows riders to properly position the saddle well behind the horse’s shoulder blades.  On some horses with large shoulders, a normal straight girth will tend to pull the saddle forward, as the girth wants to lie in a sweet spot directly below the horse’s withers.  A saddle that sits too far forward can dig the tree points into the horse’s shoulders, making him sore.

Girth 1

I tried the girths on three different horses, all Thoroughbreds.  I was most interested to try it on my four-year-old gray filly who has an enormously long shoulder.  Her shoulder sits very far back, and it can be a struggle to put the saddle in the proper position without a normal girth fitting around her middle like a western rear flank cinch.  Total Saddle Fit’s girth performed as claimed: the buckle ends matched up where the saddle billets wanted to be, while the center of the girth curved forward to lie in her girth groove.  Success!

Girth 5

Trying the girth on horse number two, Aero, was also productive.  Aero can be a bit sensitive with his tack, and he definitely seemed more relaxed and happier wearing the Shoulder Relief Girth.  I can’t say with 100% certainty that it’s due to the girth…but when I switched back to a regular straight Professional’s Choice neoprene girth the other day, he was unhappy and tense at the mounting block.  I swapped that girth for the contoured one, and he seemed more comfortable.  Coincidence? Maybe.  But I’ll take all the help I can get.  The short girth also has nice large billet keepers, making it easy to tighten the girth while mounted and tuck the straps in neatly (if you’ve ever tried to tighten your short girth on a squirmy youngster, you’ll appreciate this!).  

Girth 3

My training level horse is not the best individual to test this product.  He is naturally short-backed and no matter where you put the saddle, any girth will always be in its proper “zone.”  There’s simply not enough room on his anatomy to slide things back too far, it all ends up in the right spot.  Still, I tried both the short and the long girths on him.  I honestly could not notice a significant difference in his performance, but the girths seemed to fit well and did not rub him in any way.  Both the short and long girth ran true to size (24″ and 48″ in my case) and are made to last a long time.

Girth 4

Overall, I am very impressed with the Total Saddle Fit anatomical girth.  I would definitely recommend it for any horse with a big, long shoulder– and nearly any horse could benefit from a saddle sitting properly behind the shoulders.  At about $125 for the short dressage version and $150 for the long girth, they aren’t cheap.  However, the superior quality and workmanship is well worth the price, and easily comparable (or better!) than the $300+ girths sold by French saddle makers. Plus, the company provides excellent customer service, and offers a 110% money-back satisfaction guarantee if you return the girth within 30 days. I’ve never paid more than $70 for a girth before…but after trying these, I am sold– it’s well worth the investment.

Total Saddle Fit Girth, Product Rating:

  • Quality & Workmanship: Four Stars  * * * *
  • Performance: Four Stars  * * * *
  • Sizing: Four Stars  * * * *
  • Price: Three Stars  * * *
  • Overall Value:  Four Stars  * * * *
  • Buy It?  YES

A Day at Live Oak International

Saturday was marathon day at the Live Oak International combined driving event in Ocala, FL.  Hosted by the Weber family’s Live Oak Stud, the event is an awesome way to spend a weekend.  Several thousand spectators were in attendance to watch ponies and horses weave their way through a maze of obstacles as quickly and efficiently as possible.


If you’ve never experienced combined driving in person, it’s a real rush.  You can’t help but marvel how a driver and his navigator work together with their team of horses; somehow everyone seems to go in the proper direction at the right time, with only inches to spare between wheels and wooden posts.  Some of the turns are so tight, with changes in terrain and footing, it takes a substantial amount of trust, communication, and experience between the drivers and their horses to be so successful.  The singles, especially the ponies, absolutely fly around the corners like barrel racers; the four-in-hand teams are a bit more methodical, but they are fitting FOUR horses in the same pathway as a single pony!


Besides the driving competition, Live Oak hosts a CSI** FEI show jumping event as well.  Those jumps are HUGE, by the way.  I wasn’t able to stay but for a few rounds, though the course was riding tough and competitors were lucky to escape with just four faults.


The highlight of the day for much of the audience was meeting the famous Budweiser Clydesdales.  Three big semi rigs parked in the middle of the field near the trade fair– two trucks carrying ten total horses, and one truck carrying equipment, the harness and the beer wagon.  The doors were opened on the trailers, and the Clydesdales patiently gazed out at the swarming crowd.  There was no rope, no fence, nothing but respect separating the public from the world-renown horses.  Iphones and cameras held high, everyone rushed in to get photos and memories to last a lifetime.  The Budweiser crew unloaded the wagon and began polishing brass… so much brass!  Eventually a team of eight was hitched to the wagon and paraded around the main show jumping arena.  You wouldn’t think Clydesdales should be such a big deal to average horse people…but seeing them all dressed up, heads high, brass shimmering, ground shaking when they trot by…it was very cool and something to remember!



Collegiate Spotlight: Transylvania University Event Team

Collegiate eventing is growing leaps and bounds.  We’ve featured quite a few colleges, including the University of South Carolina-AikenAlabamaClemsonGeorgiaVirginiaUC-Davis, and Otterbein University.  The latest school joining the crowd is Transylvania University from Lexington, Kentucky.  Many thanks to Ivy Johnson for writing, and thank you for reading. 

Transy event team members Charlotte Pruet, Ivy Johnson, and Hannah Williams

Transy event team members Charlotte Pruet, Ivy Johnson, and Hannah Williams.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com

Hey everyone! My name is Ivy Johnson and I am a senior on the Transylvania University Eventing Team. This weekend our team (all three of us–we’re still a fledging team!) came down to the Poplar Place Horse Trials for our first official outing as the Eventing Team. I am the oldest member: I grew up in Pony Club in Lexington,KY and evented through most of high school,but stopped riding for the most part when I came to college. This past summer, I learned that Transylvania had hired a coach with an eventing background to be the Equestrian Team coach,and I was convinced to get back in the saddle (after I took the LSAT in October) and join the team.

The team consists of myself and my mare Molly Malone, freshman Charlotte Pruet and her mare Flicka, and freshman Hannah Williams and her gelding Brighton Beach. Our coach is Tanya Davis.

At Poplar, Hannah and Charlotte competed at Training Level. Charlotte finished 5th and Hannah finished 9th. I competed in the Novice division (it’s been six years since my last event-I’m still a bit rusty!) and had a blast, finishing on my dressage score with two double clear jump rounds.

The hope is that we attract as many promising young student eventers to Transylvania, and establish the team early on in the world of intercollegiate eventing. We are very lucky to have lots of support from the athletic department at Transylvania, which has made a world of difference in terms of the team’s ability to actually come to fruition.

Our next event as a team is FENCE, from April 11-13. For more information about the team, visit  www.transysports.com and click “Equestrian.” You can also follow us on Twitter at @TransyUEq, and search #transyeventing on both Twitter and Instagram.

Final Results and Photos from Poplar Place March HT

Jessica Phoenix and Abbey GS finished 6th in the CIC3*.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com. Jessica Phoenix and Abbey GS finished 6th in the CIC3*. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

The weekend is coming to a close at Poplar Place’s March Horse Trials.  Canada continued to dominate, taking home the top three places in the CIC3*.   Jessica Phoenix and Kyle Carter enjoyed a very successful event, and I’m sure they’ll be bubble-wrapping their horses on the way home as they both look forward to Rolex in a month.  Congratulations as well to Kelly Prather, who finished three horses in the top four of the Open Intermediate division.

As predicted, the CIC3* course proved to be tough.  Most riders rode conservatively and amassed quite a few time penalties.  There were only 7 clear rounds in the CIC3*, with 3 other starters having a stop, and 4 riders retiring on course.

[Live Scores]


1. Jessica Phoenix / Patras VR  69.6

2. Kyle Carter / Madison Park  73.10

3. Jessica Phoenix / Exponential  76.3

4. Darren Chiacchia / Amendment 15  91.3

5. Jessica Phoenix / Abbey GS  95.1


1. Libby Head / Sir Rockstar  49.8

2. Dana Widstrand / Relentless Pursuit  71.3

3. Jamie Price / Overdraft  106.3


1. Jennie Brannigan / Indie  64.4

2. Autumn Schweiss / Oakport Strauss  66.9

3. April Simmonds / Sunday Best  68.9

4. Julie Richards / Fernhill Hustler  71.9

5. Katie Resnick / The King’s Spirit  72.4


1. Kelly Prather / Flagmount’s Nightcap  37.5

2. Ashley Adams / Da Vinci Code  43.8

3. Kelly Prather / Truly Wiley  44.5


Many thanks to Ivegotyourpicture.com for these photos from Poplar Place!

Allie Knowles and Sound Prospect in the CIC3*.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com

Allie Knowles and Sound Prospect in the CIC3*. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com

Werner Geven and Vilas County in the CIC3*.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture

Werner Geven and Vilas County in the CIC3*. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com

Mary Peabody Camp and Rave Review in the CIC2*.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture

Mary Peabody Camp and Rave Review in the CIC2*. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com

Katie Resnick and The Kings Spirit in the CIC2*.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture

Katie Resnick and The Kings Spirit in the CIC2*. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com

Calvin Ramsay and Hoodwink in the CIC2*.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com

Calvin Ramsay and Hoodwink in the CIC2*. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com

Dorothy Crowell and Hennison in Training Horse division.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com

Dorothy Crowell and Hennison in Training Horse division. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com

Boyd Martin Injured at Carolina International [UPDATE: Boyd Breaks Leg]

Photo by Samantha Clark. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Boyd Martin had seven horses entered in the national horse trial divisions this weekend at the Carolina Horse Park.  We’ve just learned via Boyd’s facebook page that he suffered a fall from Steady Eddie on cross-country today and was taken away in an ambulance.  We’ll update this post as more information becomes available.  Get well soon, Boyd!

boyd fall facebook

[UPDATE: 8:55 pm]

Disclaimer: The photos posted on Boyd’s blog post are a bit graphic, so please proceed with caution!

Boyd has just posted an update on his blog, and it looks like he has suffered a broken leg. Boyd appears to be in as good of spirits as you can be with the month the Martins have had, and gave some more details on what happened at Carolina International today:

From Boyd’s blog:

“Steady Eddie is one of my top young horses, and he made the leap to advanced this year. He’s a very careful jumper so I decided to be competitive on him and really go for it at the Carolina International. About half-way around the course, at the Ruins jump — a vertical to a forward three to a very wide corner — I was moving along and decided to carve my turn and jump the fence at pace; unfortunately due to Eddie’s greenness it came as a surprise to him to see the corner and at the last moment he ducked out. My leg hit the edge of the corner at high speed which knocked me off the Eagle. Right away I knew my leg was broken – the medical staff thew me in the back of the meat wagon and took me to the local hospital for X-rays to confirm that my shin bone took a beating.”

We all know that Boyd is as tough as they come, so although there is no official word on how long he will be sidelined, you can bet that Boyd will be back in the saddle just as soon as he can.

Best of luck to both Boyd and Silva as they both recover from their respective injuries. You can stay updated by checking out Boyd and Silva’s blog here.

Results from Fontainebleau CICO3*

Elaine Pen and Vira.  Photo by Samantha Clark. Elaine Pen and Vira. Photo by Samantha Clark.

The first 2014 FEI Eventing World Cup event has wrapped up at Fontainebleau, France.  American Liz Halliday-Sharp rode both her top horses, Fernhill By Night and HHS Cooley.  Unfortunately both horses picked up 20 penalties on cross-country, moving her far down the results list after promising dressage scores.  Better luck next time, Liz!

The CICO3* division was won in thrilling fashion by Elaine Pen (NED) and her Dutch chestnut mare, Vira.  Elaine just barely beat out Italy’s Vittoria Panizzon and the fabulous gray mare Borough Pennyz; while leading after dressage, Vittoria was three seconds slow on cross-country to tie with Elaine. Elaine was only one second over the optimum time, breaking the tie to take home the win (and 3800€). Home country France took six of the top ten placings.  [Results – PDF]

I do have a question, though– why is it that Fontainebleau gets to run its CIC in the traditional dressage, cross-country, then show jumping format; while other CICs are forced to run show jumping first and cross-country last?  Why did the FEI have to make this schedule change, when it seems it should be left up to the individual event organizers; and what makes Fontainebleau special enough to run the standard format?

fontainebleau results 2014Fontainebleau Full Results (PDF)


Score Update and Photos from Poplar Place March HT

Kyle Carter and Serengeti lead the CIC2* after show jumping.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com. Kyle Carter and Serengeti lead the CIC2* after show jumping. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Yesterday was a busy day at Poplar Place Farm, running their annual spring horse trials from beginner novice through CIC3*.  The upper levels show jumped on Saturday, and will do cross-country today.  Some of the levels ran cross-country Saturday and will show jump on Sunday as the organizers scheduled nearly 400 horses this weekend.

Here are a few scores from Saturday.  Show jumping proved very influential, with rails common in the FEI divisions, Advanced, and Intermediate.  Kyle Carter is having an excellent weekend, with horses in the top 3 of each CIC division.  Jessica Phoenix is dominating the CIC3*, sitting first, second, and sixth going into cross-country.  Good luck to all competitors today!

[Live Scores]


1. Elisa Wallace / Corteo  42.8

2. Alyssa Phillips / Bliss III  43.0

3. Kyle Carter / My Mexico  45.0


1. Kyle Carter / Serengeti  53.9

2. Jennie Brannigan / Indie  54.8

3. Pedro Gutierrez / Racques Biats  55.2


1. Jessica Phoenix / Patras VR 48.8

2. Jessica Phoenix / Exponential  56.3

3. Kyle Carter / Madison Park  61.1


1. Katie Frein / Houdini  32.5

2. Libby Head / Sir Rockstar  36.6

3. Erin Renfroe / DeCordova  45.1


Many thanks to Ivegotyourpicture.com for these photos from Poplar Place!

Katie Frei and Houdini lead the Advanced division.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Katie Frei and Houdini lead the Advanced division. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Jennie Brannigan and Indie, second in the CIC2*.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Jennie Brannigan and Indie, second in the CIC2*. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Holly Malcom and Amcor, second in the Junior Training A division.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Holly Malcom and Amcor, second in the Junior Training A division. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Sarah Spagnol and Grand Design in Junior Novice B.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Sarah Spagnol and Grand Design in Junior Novice B. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Mary Marshall Haugh and Song Trick in Open Beginner Novice.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Mary Marshall Haugh and Song Trick in Open Beginner Novice. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Emily Rusinyak and Fernhill Rip Tide in Open Novice.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Emily Rusinyak and Fernhill Rip Tide in Open Novice. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Lara Borson-Knight and My Noble in Beginner Novice Horse.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Lara Borson-Knight and My Noble in Beginner Novice Horse. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

John Crowell and Little Hail in Beginner Novice Horse.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

John Crowell and Little Hail in Beginner Novice Horse. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Prize Money At Horse Trials? Or Not? [Update: Doug Responds]

Doug Payne and Running Order at Rolex 2012, photo by Heather McGreer Doug Payne and Running Order at Rolex 2012, photo by Heather McGreer

The Chronicle of the Horse published an interesting article yesterday written by Doug Payne: “Eventing Needs New Bones Under A Facelift.”  Doug laid out a proposal for a three-tiered system of events, at C, B, and A levels to help the sport grow and thrive.  The lowest-tier events would be made up of largely unrecognized-esque horse trials, while the A level events would offer more prize money and other incentives.

This concept has been met with vocal opinions, including on the COTH Eventing forum, where commenters are largely criticizing Doug’s ideas.  Some of the opposition rests with the notion that “the rich get richer,” as those who can afford top horses, elite training, and hefty competition schedules are likely those who will end up with prize money; while the average adult amateur or pony clubber on a backyard mount will spend the same entry fee and go home with nothing.

There is also the fear of becoming “hunterized:” increasingly elitist and prohibitively expensive as the hunter/jumper industry has done. Sure, professional riders would love to earn prize money at their sport– it would help finance their business and encourage owners to participate if there was some tangible return on their investment.  However, no one is guaranteed to make a living in eventing, at least not directly from competition success.

The Chronicle published a rebuttal article today, from an adult amateur’s perspective.   Sara Gonzalez-Rothi raises some interesting arguments against Doug’s proposal.  Ultimately, she concludes, that the spirit of eventing is fundamentally different from any other equestrian sport.  The culture of “inclusion, horsemanship, and sportsmanship” is what draws so many participants to eventing, and makes us different from the other disciplines.  The added expense of prize money must be distributed across all competitors, not just the lucky few who win.

While I think it would be cool if division winners could receive some sort of prize– other than a $2.50 ribbon– I know that event organizers’ budgets are already stretched thin.  Any leftover money should probably go towards reducing entry fees, not into a prize money fund.  It would be neat if the sport could grow enough sponsorship to both reduce entry fees *and* allow for prize money, but that’s just not feasible at this point in time.  And there is always the fear that the love of money will become a root of evil in the sport…gunning for prize money could weaken the values of horsemanship and sportsmanship we are founded upon.

Update 11:24pm — Doug reached out to EN with the following thoughts.  They are posted with thanks to Doug for his ever-willingness to address eventing’s tough issues, however we each might stand on any given topic.  From Doug:

“Everyone seems to be focusing on the upper level prize money as my primary motivation for writing this piece. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. I open the COTH article explaining that I’ve found it cost prohibitive to compete at the lower levels, in searching for alternatives for our horses I chose to limit my events in favor of jumper shows. This allowed me to gain much needed experience for the horses under my care at a much more reasonable cost due to add back money.

It’s only logical that more riders are choosing to go to other disciplines or unrecognized competitions which offer a welcoming competition for reasonable fees. As a judge, TD, rider and a member of the organizing committee of the Carolina International I have a unique perspective on this topic. I have spoken to multiple organizers who said that running unrecognized events costs them half as much and offers the same profit margins.  If the USEA became more flexible with their fee structure and rules, organizers would have more flexibility to price their events reasonably.  It’s crucial that we drop the barriers to entry at sanctioned events, allowing more participants at the grassroots levels. We have a great sport comprised of a great breath of people. I wrote this looking to allow more to participate at reasonable fees, as well as support our team members and owners to help our country succeed on the international stage!

One quick side note with regards to prize money, Carolina International this weekend is a great example of what we need for ‘A’ class events.  Entries cost about as much as other events and horses finishing in the top placings will be able to pay for their weekend or more. These funds were raised under the great leadership of Jane Murray at the CI not on the back of other competitors!

I want our sport to thrive and it’s not going to happen by pricing competitors, owners, riders or organizers out of the market!”

Wednesday Video from Kentucky Performance Products: Dramatic Air Rescue

A woman and her Tennessee Walking Horse, Dakota, were trail riding in southern California when the footing gave way beneath them.  Dakota fell some 300 feet down into the canyon and had to be rescued by helicopter.  Veterinarian Rachel Sachar was flown in to help stabilize and sedate the pinto gelding for transport.  Dakota is believed to have suffered a fractured skull, but Dr. Sachar believes he will make a full recovery.  Read the full story on nydailynews.com.



Unseasonably Late Snow Affecting Opening Dates

Hopefully Area IV riders can dig themselves out of the snow! Across the country, competitors are worrying about upcoming opening dates and how they’ll ever get their horses ready in time. But riders aren’t the only nervous ones — organizers are too! Katie Lindsay, organizer of the Wayne Eventing Derby in the suburbs of Chicago, sent us a brief note and the photo above.

This may embody winter in Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. The Wayne Eventing Derby (April 11-13) opens on Tuesday. Today, several of the new Jon Wells Derby jumps were relocated from their winter hibernation spot prior to being moved next month to Lamplight, the Derby site. Please note the enormous pile of snow behind it — with more predicted this week. Why organizers get nervous!

 How is this unseasonably late snow affecting your spring schedule, EN? 

From the Blood-Horse: The Fastest Horse In the World

Photo by Lauren Nethery. Photo by Lauren Nethery.

The Bloodhorse.com is opening itself up to new stories– a new section titled Racing Voices is dedicated to storytelling in the words of horse racing’s active figures—breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys, bloodstock agents, and more.  The series began on Friday with an essay from Florida Thoroughbred breeder Bill Killeen about one of his promising two-year-olds, “Puck.”

From The Blood-Horse:

After working an eighth of a mile on two occasions 10 days apart, Puck went his first quarter-mile in :26 seconds flat, exactly what Barry wanted. He looked to be doing it easily, which you would certainly hope since that should be well within the capacity of anyone pretending to be a racehorse. His gallop out (slowing down) time was :38 1/5, about what one would expect. We thought his work 10 days later would be as much as a second faster, a very good time at Eisaman Equine.
On work day, we were surprised to see Puck out by himself. He would go solo, an experiment which could go one of two ways: He could fly off unrestricted by a slower horse or, as happens most of the time, run slower due to the lack of competition. Barry feels it’s important, however, not to let his charges get the idea that they are always supposed to arrive at the finish together. If this didn’t work out, well, there’s always next week.
We could tell Puck was moving pretty fast when he hit the starting pole. He runs evenly and determinedly, with a longer and smoother stride than you might expect from a horse his size, not particularly long or large. I thought he might have shaded 25 seconds when he hit the wire, but it’s difficult to tell when you’re looking straight down the track; the angle is poor.
Barry looked at his watch. He looked at it again. Then, he called me over.
How fast did Puck go?  Faster than anyone expected.  But Bill tempers big dreams and expectations, knowing that one fast work does not a racehorse make; like all equine athletes, there are many hurdles to overcome to make it to the top.
There have been so many promising failures that the phrase “Fastest Horse in the World” is more often delivered with sarcasm than with a straight face. Horses that have had spectacular works in sales and sold for millions often have not delivered on the racetrack. Why? Tons of reasons, the main being injuries. You’ve got a large body bouncing along up there on pretty spindly legs. The wear and tear of racing erodes talent over time, in most cases. Some horses just don’t have the mental strength to perform. It’s pretty intimidating to break from a starting gate, bells blaring, jockeys hollering, horses knocking you left and right, and perform the task.
At the end of the essay, Bill provided an update to Puck’s story.  After winning his first race, Puck faced a few niggling injuries that kept him out of the starting gate. However, he’s on the comeback trail this spring and looks forward to another start at Gulfstream Park soon.  Bill finishes with a great quote that I think all horse owners would appreciate: F. Scott Fitzgerald famously told us there are no second acts in American lives. Hopefully he wasn’t talking about horses.”

How Does Riding Three Horses at a One-Day Event Work?

The feeling as you cross through the finish flags makes it all worthwhile.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com. The feeling as you cross through the finish flags makes it all worthwhile. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

You may have read my post yesterday, 5 Things I Learned Riding Three Horses at a One-Day Event.  I took three horses: a four-year-old filly doing her first event at Entry level; a five-year-old (Aero) doing his first event, at BN; and a six-year-old with several training level events under his belt.  I definitely confirmed one thing: I am NOT Buck Davidson!  I’m glad I survived, I’m glad my horses gained experience and confidence, but I don’t think I’ll ever try that many rides in a day again.

Ride times:

  • Entry level–  8:14, 9:00, 10:36.
  • Beginner novice– 9:32, 10:10, 11:30.
  • Training level — 10:55, 1:12, 2:25.

Here was my schedule for Saturday:

4:30am:  Feed horses. Quickly go over them in the barn lights and clean up any stains; Showsheen and brush tails, touch up braids if needed.

5:25am: Put shipping boots on.  Watch the “experienced” training level horse run around like an idiot in his stall, excited to go on a car ride.

5:30am: Load and leave.

6:15am: Arrive at show grounds, in the dark.  Lunge the Aero the toddler in the moonlight to settle him a bit, knowing he won’t have enough warm up time later for dressage. He was fresh and a little distracted, but reasonably obedient.

7:00am: It’s almost daylight.  Get packets.   Clean up the baby four-year-old gray filly.  Give her a light spin on the lunge line, instead of letting her “lunge” herself tied to the trailer.

7:25am: Get on the baby gray filly for dressage.  Jig sideways to warmup area.  Trot around warmup at breakneck speed, head held higher than a giraffe.  Canter; get both leads (success!) and try to remind her how to steer. Try not to kill kids on ponies concentrating obliviously on 20m circles. Avoid obvious stares of “Why is she here on that crazy thing?”

8:12am: Filly finally settles a little bit.  Almost trotting with some sense of two-beat rhythm, and I can see over her ears now.  Ring 2 is running early; may as well go ahead and get it over with, another two minutes of warmup isn’t going to fix anything.  Go into the main arena and the filly is completely overwhelmed.  Ears in my face, body wiggling sideways, incapable of moving in a straight line or performing a transition anywhere near a letter.  At least she sort of maintained the intended gait, and more or less completed the pattern in the proper order.  Geometry be damned.  The judge was incredibly nice, smiling and laughing, and congratulated me for staying on.  Well, there’s that.

8:25am: Tack for show jumping.  Go ahead and put cross-country boots on now, there won’t be much time to change into them later.

8:35am: Get on baby gray filly for show jumping.  She’s slightly more settled now and our steering has returned.  Hopped over a few warmup fences like no big deal, stood quietly to watch kids on ponies wobble around the 18″ jumper class.

9:05am: Jumper ring is running a bit late, the gray filly was the first one to go in the two-foot class (Entry three-phase division).  We trotted the first fence, awkwardly wiggled over the second, and then she locked into a beautiful canter rhythm and loped her way around the rest of the course quite happily.  For her first ever show jump course, I was very proud.  Good girl!

The four-year-old gray filly did well in her first show jumping course.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

The four-year-old gray filly did well in her first show jumping course. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

9:08am: Hurry back to the trailer, untack as fast as possible.  Unload Aero and tack him for dressage ASAP.

9:15am: Get on Aero and head to dressage warm up.  He felt fairly calm and confident until he saw 25 horses and ponies milling around in a confined space.  While he’s been on field trips off the farm before, it’s only been with one or two other horses.  A show environment was entirely new and he was completely unwound.  All his progress at home was for naught.

9:32am: Time for Aero’s dressage test. Same arena, same judge.  Different horse looking wild and insubordinate.  Wow, I feel like a crappy rider.  Not much I can do except patiently struggle through it, trying to rub his neck and reassure him, bitterly thinking this horse is capable of scoring in the low 30s on a good day and here he is acting like a jackass.  Today is not a good day.  He ended the test with a crooked halt (but immobile, at least).  The judge again smiled knowingly and praised me for my patience with him.  I thanked her for her time and apologized for the pitiful display of incompetence.  I couldn’t forget that test (or the first one) quickly enough.

9:40am: Swap Aero’s dressage tack for jumping tack.  Despite his anxiety attack in dressage, he was very mellow and well-behaved at the trailer all day long.  Plus one for moral victories?

9:50am: Get on Aero to warm up for show jumping.  Unfortunately, show jumping warm-up was in a very small, crowded space, making for tight slick turns.  Aero continued to feel a bit claustrophobic.  He had moments where he would try to relax, but it was difficult.  I kept thinking “soft hands, leg on” but it’s not easy when you feel like you’re on a time bomb.  Green horses can be so unpredictable; at home they’re quiet and confident, at a show they can turn into a frantic puddle of jell-o.  All you can do is take a deep breath, roll your eyes, and know it will get better eventually.

10:15am: Aero was supposed to jump a few minutes ago, but the show jumping ring is just a bit behind.  The longer warmup time did not help, he was just more wound up.  When he got into the ring, he spooked at four-wheelers on the nearby cross-country course.  Then he shied at photographers.   The judges stand in the corner sent him skittering sideways.  Thankfully, he wasn’t concerned about the jumps whatsoever– that was the easy part.  Poor immature horse just overwhelmed by the environment.  He should get better as he gets out more.  I made a mental note, though, not to be early to cross-country warmup!

Aero overcame his anxiety enough to jump a clear round for his first time at a show.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Aero overcame his anxiety enough to jump a clear round for his first time at a show. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

10:20am: Yank the jump saddle and breastplate off of Aero and throw it on the gray filly for cross-country.  Also, tack up the training level horse for dressage and load him back on the trailer for later.

10:25am: Warm up the gray filly for cross-country.  She’s quiet, settled, relaxed and responsive.  She’s got this showing thing all figured out now.  We popped over the little logs in warmup and she was good to go.

10:40am: Cross-country is running behind.  We were supposed to go a few minutes earlier.  I asked the xc starters to radio the dressage stewards and tell them I’d be late on my training horse.

10:41am: “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Have a Good Ride!”  The gray filly trotted out of the start box and boldy over the first tiny two-foot fence.  We loped around the whole course in a fantastic rhythm, like a hunter derby.  She hesitated slightly at the water, but trotted on through and jumped the entire course with ease and confidence.  I smiled the whole way and was basically a passenger needing only to steer toward the next set of flags.  Baby’s first cross-country was a huge success.  What an awesome girl!

Finishing the entry level cross-country course.  She's officially an event horse now!  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Finishing the entry level cross-country course. She’s officially an event horse now! Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

10:50am: Hurry back to the trailer, swap bridle from gray filly to training level horse, get on him and trot to dressage warm-up.  Thankfully my friend was a huge help and cooled out the filly for me.

10:55am: Dressage stewards tell me they thought I had scratched since I hadn’t showed up…I tried to explain the conflict with cross-country and show jumping running late (apparently the xc starters hadn’t radioed them). My dressage time was 10:55, and I was to get in Ring 1 immediately, no ifs ands or buts.  I managed to canter one circle in warmup and then went directly to the ring.

10:56am: My poor training level horse usually needs a good long warmup, with at least 15 minutes of patient walking lateral work to settle into a soft, relaxed, obedient mindset.  He got none of that.  Considering he went right from the trailer to the ring, he did his best.  He had some nice moments, but also some resistance and tension (that probably would have been greatly helped with adequate warmup time).  It was far from his best test, but it wasn’t a disaster; I can’t blame the mistakes on him, as it was largely due to my mad rush with multiple horses.

 11:03am: Untack the training level horse, give him a peppermint, and take a deep breath.  I actually had a moment to sit down, drink a bottle of water, and think about my upcoming beginner novice course.

11:45am: Unload Aero and tack him for cross-country.  Dawdle around and waste time…normally I get on about 25 minutes before my ride time, but I didn’t want Aero to be stressed in warmup a minute more than necessary.  It’s hard making yourself be “late” on purpose.

12:05pm: Get on Aero and head to cross-country warmup.  He was still a bit on the muscle, but the ticking time-bomb feeling was gone. We jumped a few warm up fences and tried to keep moving until it was our time.

12:15pm: Another “Have a good ride!” and we leave the box.  He trotted nicely over the first fence and landed eagerly with a bouncy, forward canter.  Approaching the second, he took one look at it surrounded by other levels’ jumps and (gasp!) jump judges, and he propped/spun sideways.  I don’t think he even saw the jump in front of him, his eyeballs were completely going east-west.  I stuffed him over the fence awkwardly, I’m not sure if they counted it as a stop or not.  I let him trot the next several fences, so he had time to process all the extraneous stuff and focus on his intended target.  By about fence 7, he was getting the hang of it and I let him canter.  He jumped bravely over the beginner novice “coffin,” and went into the water with just a bit of suspicion. We trotted the last few jumps and he walked back to the trailer feeling pretty proud of himself.  I was humbly reminded that most green horses are not as easy as the gray filly!

Aero gallops around his first full cross-country course at Beginner Novice. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

Aero gallops around his first full cross-country course at Beginner Novice. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

12:20pm: Untack and cool out Aero.

12:30pm: Swap bits on the bridle and tack up the training level horse for show jumping.

12:50pm: Get on the training level horse and head to show jumping warmup.  Show jumping is again running behind, but not sure how much.  I jump a warm-up fence and realize that a waterford, his normal show jumping bit, was not going to work today.  I debated going back to the trailer to change it, but didn’t know when my turn would come.  I decided to tough it out.

1:20pm: Suffer through the training level show jump course.  Big mistake to stay in the waterford.  Show jumping in the large open field, right next to cross-country, had my horse thinking other ideas about control.  He ran past several distances and I struggled to hold him together.  We had a disappointing two rails down (the first rails he’s ever had) and I rode like crap while he pulled my arms out.  I was feeling pretty tired by this point; three hours of sleep, waking up at 4am, and seven previous rides was taking its toll.

The last fence on the training level show jump course.  Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

The last fence on the training level show jump course. Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com.

1:25pm: Strip off the show jumping tack, sit down and try to recover before cross-country.  Pray that the new cross-country bit will help; decide that if he feels too strong at any point, I will pull up and retire.

1:45pm: Tack the training level horse for cross-country.  I was trying a three-ring gag on him for the first time in competition, and I had planned to use the second ring just below the snaffle.  After the show jumping debacle, I moved it to the third ring for extra leverage. (I also ride with a snaffle rein.)

2:05pm: Get on for the last time, to warm up for training level cross-country.  Test out the new brakes: working great.  I used to ride him in a pelham, but he started backing off it too much, curling and diving on his forehand.  I tried a variety of snaffles, twisted, Myler, but none were quite right.  The three-ring gave me enough leverage for control, but he’d still take contact and keep his balance up.

2:25pm: For the last time, “three, two, one, have a nice ride!”  We started off immediately into a great rhythm, and kept it the whole way around.  I was able to half-halt effectively for each fence, and my horse felt super.  It was the best round he’d done; he never lacks for confidence or boldness, but his enthusiasm can make him a tough ride.  Today was a walk in the park.  I still felt like I was on a high-powered rocket, but I had full control of the throttle.  We had an odd distance or two near the end– I think my eye was worn out!– but he jumped safely and comfortably and we both had a great time.

Had a fun time on the training level cross-country.

Had a fun time on the training level cross-country.

2:32pm: Cool him out, take his braids out, try to sort through the mess of tack and sweaty saddle pads thrown all over the bed of the truck.

2:45pm: Load up and head home.  Thank husband and friend profusely for their help, feel satisfied that all horses finished the day on a positive note.  Reflect on how nice the gray filly is and will be, how much farther Aero has to go, and be thankful that the last horse took care of me when I needed it (for once).  Proclaim that professional riders like Buck Davidson are super human and vow never attempt to show three horses in three phases in one day ever again!


Ashley Leith: PRO Derby Cross Demo a Success

Overall winner Ashley Leith.  Photo by Sara Lieser Overall winner Ashley Leith. Photo by Sara Lieser

From Ashley Leith:

On Saturday, March 15th there was a day of polo and PRO Derby Cross at Longwood Farm in Ocala, FL.  The weather was glorious and many people came out to tailgate during the day and enjoy the live band and pulled pork later in the afternoon.  The Professional Riders Organization hosted a Derby Cross demo to promote the return of PRO Derby Cross to Ocala in 2015.  Between polo matches, three teams of two PRO riders competed over a ten jump course that ran out into the middle of the polo field and then up the berm into the crowd.  The times were close, but Caroline Martin and Ashley Leith pulled out the winning score, with Ashley Leith finishing as the top individual rider.  Sarah Murphy and Bobby Meyerhoff placed second and Jennie Brannigan and Hannah Sue third.  Nate Chambers did a masterful job announcing and with music playing and the crowd jostling to follow each ride it was a fun afternoon!

Sara Murphy, PRO Derby Cross.  Photo by Sara Lieser

Sara Murphy. Photo by Sara Lieser

PRO Derby Cross.  Photo by Sara Lieser

PRO Derby Cross participants. Photo by Sara Lieser

Jennie Brannigan, PRO Derby Cross.  Photo by Sara Lieser

Jennie Brannigan. Photo by Sara Lieser

Hannah Burnett at PRO Derby Cross.  Photo by Sara Lieser

Hannah Burnett. Photo by Sara Lieser

Caroline Martin, PRO Derby Cross.  Photo by Sara Lieser

Caroline Martin. Photo by Sara Lieser

Bobby Meyerhoff, PRO Derby Cross. Photo by Sara Lieser.

Bobby Meyerhoff. Photo by Sara Lieser.

A Mid-March Cross-Country Schooling Day

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of cross-country schooling at Longwood in Ocala, FL.  I know, all you snowed-in northerners are completely sick of reading stories about the Lucky Few down south enjoying the sunshine, while your first-of-the-year outings are still weeks (or months) away.  I’m sorry…I know your pain, I used to be one of you!

Nonetheless, I enjoyed cross-country schooling yesterday with my three horses.  One of them has already competed twice this year; the goal with him was to test out a different bit for better brakes.  But it’s Longwood, it’s like Disneyworld for eventers, so you know he had some fun jumping a few things!  He felt excellent, very bold and brave, yet responsive in a three-ring gag.  He formerly went in a rubber mullen pelham, but it became too much bit and caused him to curl, despite the snaffle rein.  For two cross-country outings I used a slow-twist Dr. Bristol…it worked okay the first time, and then was an utter failure at the second event.  The three-ring gag, with reins on the snaffle and second ring, seems to earn enough respect to half-halt effectively, while keeping him elevated and not rolled up.

We practiced a few things that he hasn’t yet seen in competition at Training level– a trakehner, a double bank question in and out of water, mounds and skinnies.  Longwood is so fantastic because all these “upper level” questions are presented at low, inviting heights.  It builds great confidence in the horses, while exposing them to situations they will see later in their careers.

So that was the easy horse.  The other two on the trailer were much greener.  You may remember Aero, from last year’s stories.  Now five years old, he’s still with me after a short term lease/purchase didn’t work out this fall.  I just got him back in February, and he needed a bit of weight and reschooling.  He’s coming back into fine form, and was ready for his first cross-country school since last September.

The vast array of jumps scattered in the schooling field were a bit overwhelming to poor Aero, so we trotted a lot of small things to let him settle.  As we went on he got into a good rhythm and began looking for jumps to do.  He’s really a horse who loves to be challenged; the more you throw at him, the better he focuses and tries.  He jumped banks, water, and the ditch with boldness by the time we finished.  He’s a quirky little horse, a bit of a mental workout, but he has the physical parts to grow into a very nice horse someday.  His first competition is coming up this weekend; I don’t have high expectations for scoring well, but the experience will be very good for him.

The other green horse is REALLY green– like fluorescent lime green.  A four-year-old filly, she’s been off the track for about three months.  She has an incredibly mature mind, however, and I’m very excited about her for the future.  She has taken to jumping like a duck to water, and naturally canters around on the lightest rein in great rhythm.  With the way she snaps her knees over fences, she could make a hunter, if this cross-country thing doesn’t work out….

So yesterday was her introduction to Jumps That Don’t Fall Down, a variety of logs, bushes, tiny banks and baby ditches.  While it felt like she would rip my arms out at a trot going crooked in all directions at once, as soon as we picked up a canter she settled into her loopy rein contact, balanced and straight.  Thoroughbreds– they’re bred to canter and gallop, remember, not trot!  She hopped over some small logs, wiggly as most green horses are, but with bravery and willingness.  She cantered some bushes, jumped me out of the tack, and enjoyed herself greatly.

Ok, so she could jump natural jumps.  What about the real stuff, water and ditches and banks?  We stayed at the small end of the ditches, but she didn’t even blink once.  The baby bank was nothing more than a simple step, which made complete sense to her.  And then she sealed the deal, barely hesitating on her first ever approach to water.  At home, she’s like a fish…she plays in her water tank up to her eyeballs, and willingly splashes through any available puddle.  A water jump is just an excuse to get wet!  By the end, she was hopping up and down the tiny bank in water with her ears pricked.  Success!

You can pick out some really nice eventing prospects– good conformation, good mover, good jump– but you never know if they’ll hate ditches, or water, or galloping alone away from the group.  That first cross-country school is a glimpse into the horse’s future: can they make it in this sport?  Do they have what it takes, the desire to jump crazy obstacles between the flags?  While a 2-foot log and trotting into water is no indicator of Advanced potential, it can give you insight into the horse’s innate willingness and natural enthusiasm.  It looks like I’ve found another one who wants to play the game– and I’m so excited to see where she goes.


Sunday Video: Lord Windemere Wins the 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup

In a thrilling finish, Lord Windemere stayed on to win the 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup by a short head over On My Own on Friday, March 14.  Heavy favorite Bob’s Worth, the 2013 winner, finished fifth.  Lord Windemere started out the race in last, jumping early fences at the back of the pack.  It goes to show, it’s not how you start but how you finish!  He is trained by former three-time Gold Cup winning jockey Jim Culloty.

Weekend Score Update

Matthew Brown and BCF Belicoso, FCHP CIC** winners. Photo by Sherry Stewart.

Matthew Brown and BCF Belicoso won the Advanced division at Copper Meadows, shown here winning the CIC2* at Fresno County Horse Park. Photo by Sherry Stewart.

Three events are on-going this weekend: Pine Top Spring HT in Georgia; Feather Creek HT in Oklahoma; and Copper Meadows HT in California.  Here are a few results from divisions that have completed so far.

Feather Creek Farm HT

Preliminary: Out of six starters, only one rider finished.  Two withdrew before cross-country, and no thers made it around.  The detailed cross-country results show many problems at fences 9 and 10.  I’m not sure what happened out there, but congratulations to Nicole Hatley and Ace for making it around!

1. Nicole Hatley / Ace  62.6

Pine Top Spring HT


1. Skylar Norman / Ramble On  49.9

2. Sophie Ochocinski / Pog Mahome  63.2

3. Emily Thompson / Sawyer  88.1

Open Preliminary 1

1. Boyd Martin / Callisto  33.6

2. Ryan Wood / Woodstock Bennett  35.0

Phillip Dutton / Good Enough  39.1

Open Preliminary 2

1. Boyd Martin / Ballyneety  19.6

2. Ryan Wood / Woodstock Wallaby 36.8

3. Sarah Cousins / Folk Hero  40.7

Copper Meadows HT 


1. Matthew Brown / BCF Belicoso  43.7

2. Jennifer McFall / High Times  53.3

3. Jolie Wentworth / Goodknight 62.0


Five Things I Learned Riding Three Horses at a One-Day Event

Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com Photo by Ivegotyourpicture.com

Yesterday, I attempted to answer a question: How does Buck do it?

How does Buck compete a gazillion horses every weekend?  Could an average rider do it?  As an eventer, I am crazy by default.  Face it, you have to be crazy to have a passion for this sport…it’s what makes us unique.  But it’s a whole ‘nother realm of “crazy” to enter three horses in a one-day event, to be ridden by a mere mortal.

It was just a local unrecognized horse trial.  I entered one horse at Entry (two-foot), one in Beginner Novice, and one at Training.  At the lowest levels, how hard could it be?  I should mention that the Entry horse and the Beginner Novice horse had never been to a show before.  But I felt no pressure for them to be competitive, just get around and have a good experience.  The Training level horse has a bit of seasoning, and was there mostly to get in a dressage ring and try out a new cross-country bit for better control.  Point being, I wasn’t there for ribbons, I was there for education (and a reasonable entry fee!).

I don’t have an army of working students; I don’t even have one.  I was fortunate, though, to have the help of a dear friend and my husband.  Hubby was completely freaked out at the idea of nine rides in a day, and desperately pleaded to hire an extra person to groom.  I assured him we would be fine.  My past life of grooming four or five horses, plus riding my own, has made me very organized, calm, and practical in a show environment.  With a few helping hands to shuffle horses on and off the trailer and swap tack (I also don’t have an armory of saddles and gear), the day ran pretty smoothly.  My husband even commented on the drive home, “You know, that wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected.” Thanks, honey!

Friday afternoon, I managed to ride, bathe, and clip the three horses.  Then pack the trailer, drive to the show grounds, and walk (run!) cross-country courses before it got too dark.  Then get home, braid all three, and clean tack.  It was after midnight before I finished, with my alarm set for four A.M.  Where are those working students?!

The show was, more or less, a success.  I feel like all three horses could have done better in some areas, but they all ended the day with confidence-building cross-country rides and gained valuable exposure going forward.  Here’s what I learned from riding three horses at a one-day event, that applies to any show, but especially if you have nine rides in six hours:

1. Organization is essential.  I packed tack trunks with saddle pads and boots laid out in order of need, one pile per horse.  Bridles were set up in advance, and while my horses tend to share tack, I had a backup bridle fitted just in case.  The names of each horse was written on the back of their bridle number.  There was never a panicked moment spent searching for something– everything has its place.

2. Scheduling.  As I do for every event, I take time to write down a detailed schedule of when to tack, when to get on for warm up, and ride times.  This gets more important and complicated when more horses are involved.  With times written on paper, you can direct your (limited) support crew where and when to best help you.

3. Flexibility is key!  As in life, things rarely go exactly as planned.  Show jumping was running behind, and with tight ride times this really ate up into my already meager warm-up time.  My training level horse literally trotted from the trailer to the dressage arena, and the ring stewards barely let me canter a circle before hustling me out of warm-up (they thought I’d scratched, not realizing show jumping was running late in another ring).  Just roll with the punches and do your best.  The training horse was a bit frazzled, and certainly not at his best, but he made an effort to be rideable and with no warmup to speak of (he really needs 35 minutes) I had to accept what he gave me.

4. Focus on the moment and the horse beneath you.  It’s tough enough to focus on one horse, one course, and one level in a weekend.  It takes quite a bit more mental effort to concentrate on three horses individually, how they need to be ridden, and swap between them in an instant for each phase.   Not to mention knowing where you’re going on cross-country, having only walked the courses once-ish the night before in the near-darkness!

5. Be positive.  After two really horrible, embarrassing dressage rides from the first-time horses– in which the judge complimented me for staying on, and staying in the ring– it’s natural to get disappointed and frustrated with your performance, knowing you can do better.  But with more rides to come, you simply have to forget it, smile, and move on.  There just isn’t time to dwell on what happened five minutes ago…because you’re rushing back to the trailer to get on another one, or reviewing the show jumping course in your mind, or warming up another horse for the next phase.  Be proud of what you *did* accomplish: you didn’t fall off, you jumped all the jumps (in the proper order!) and your horse finished the day better than he started.  There’s always another day to win!

I admit, after nine rides in one day of competition, I still don’t know how the likes of Buck and Boyd and Phillip do it!  It is incredibly difficult and takes enormous mental and physical stamina to keep going and give each horse your best.  I’m sure it gets easier the more you do it, but as for me, I think that’s my last time riding three horses and all three phases on one Saturday.

Melanie O’Neill: The 47th Time’s the Charm

EN reader Melanie O’Neill sent us her story of comebacks with Viggo (Fly You Fools).  Melanie writes, “I hope to be an eventer again but getting peeled of a cross-country course can take you down a peg.  I have 3 kids and work multiple part time jobs including event organizer/secretary at Bucks County Horse Park, veterinary receptionist, and a traveling trainer.”  Many thanks to Melanie for sharing, and thank you for reading.  If you have a submission for Eventing Nation, send it to [email protected]!

From Melanie:

ears 1

This is my horse Viggo working in the outdoor ring, at least in the part that is usable.  This has been our year of comebacks and think we are on number 47.  I think it’s our lucky number.  Last summer I had two trips to the ER: A broken nose from a barn quad accident, and hauled off the cross-country at an event babbling and unable to name the current president.  We managed to come back from each and put in a nice test at a dressage show in the early fall, just for Viggo to come up lame shortly afterwards.  He came back sound, and then fall into winter had 2 separate kicks and a puncture wound.  Two caused cellulitis and one an antibiotic reaction that left him unable to bend his neck to eat.  And then the winter of 2013-14 set in….

He is not an easy horse to ride after time off.  And winter is never his good time, oscillating between laziness and spooking/bucking.  I’m 48 and with so many recent brushes with fate I had about lost my nerve.  I was riding scared, talking myself into the saddle and barely getting more than a western jog.   Otherwise using any excuse not to ride. At about that time a friend had a pretty serious fall off her horse.  And she decided to send the mare to a “cowboy.”  It made me look at Viggo in a new light.  My partner of 9 years and I were missing something in our relationship.  I am a part time trainer and I always use groundwork in my training.  But I had never done that with Viggo, at least not with any kind of consistency.  People would say lunge him first but I was never a fan of wearing a horse down on the lunge.  Then there was that time years ago that he got away from me and ran around the farm screaming, dragging the lunge line.  He was always respectful to lead so I thought I didn’t need to do in-hand work.

I started to do ground work only work sessions.  I worked in hand making him listen to my body language and demanding 100% attention.  I could do this with confidence without fearing a buck that may come with a tap from the whip.  Then I started lunging but differently than I had used before.  I asked for connection, the same connection that I had while riding. I asked for attention and obedience.  I worked through spooky spots in the indoor on the lunge.  I had to giggle the one time when on the lunge he bent down to smell a poo pile and I said NO and flicked the whip and he almost groveled his obedience.  I gained confidence; we became a team.  I started getting on after groundwork and I felt able to deal with anything that may come.  Once with my trainer, we worked though a spook spot and I won.  I mean to say, we won.  I was Viggo’s leader and gave him the ability to trust me.

Things were going along great then another setback.  While cleaning stalls I heard a crack from the indoor and looked in.  I could see light coming in that shouldn’t have been there.  I called the barn manager over and we could see a beam over the door was broken, bent down in a V shape.  Cracking sounds were coming from the building.  She called the barn owner and I went over to tell friends that were tacking up, not to ride.   Within 10 minutes the center section of the indoor collapsed.  With a crash and a WOOSH that sent people and dogs running and cloud that blew everything out of the barn aisle.

indoor collapse

The outdoor had not been plowed since we had the indoor available to us.  There were now 8 inches of ice out there.  Even the plowed farm paths were too icy.  My trailer was at home, down my 500 foot driveway which we had not plowed all winter.  So yet another break in work…and another comeback.  I hitched rides to trailer to a nearby indoor twice and when the weather broke this week I was ready to work.  The ring was still partially icy.  On a couple of the warm days the barn had a snow stomping rides.

snow arena riders

With continued melting about two-thirds of a circle was clear.  So Sunday when it was near 60 degrees I hand shoveled the other third and rode in the circle.  Tuesday when I brought Viggo in from the field I could tell he was having a bit of spring fever.  In his stall he walked away from me when I went to brush him.  While I was getting my tack, he squealed and spun in his stall.  Oh my, one of those days.  OK stick with the plan.  I walked him in hand around the farm paths, requiring obedient turns and changing the pace of the walk.  He started to sigh.  I put him on the lunge in the driest part of the outdoor and he listened.  Though upward transitions are still a little exciting for him; I mean he is only 17.  And then I mounted up.  He was wonderful.  He did have to test me by blowing through the outside rein but I did not allow it and he gave that up.   Of course we have a long way to go for both of our fitness and remembering all those niggling dressage details.  But for now weeee’rrrrreee baaaaack!

PS If you see us at an event this summer and we are in the warm-up doing our in-hand work, now you know why.  Sorry for the inconvenience!


Friday Video: Elisa Wallace and Simply Priceless Red Hills Helmet Cam

More of this, please! More of this, please!

Elisa Wallace rode Simply Priceless in the CIC2* division at Red Hills International Horse Trials in Tallahassee, FL last weekend.  The pair finished in 13th place, adding 12.4 time penalties to their score. It appears she jumped the wrong fence into the water at 16A, taking the Intermediate fence instead of the CIC2* jump, but Elisa quickly went back and corrected the mistake.  No penalty (other than time!) for jumping the wrong fence, so long as it is flagged for another level and you complete all of your designated jumps in the proper order!  [Red Hills Results]

2014 Rolex Featured Rider Blogs

Meghan O'Donoghue and Pirate at Rolex in 2013.  Photo by Kasey Mueller. Meghan O'Donoghue and Pirate at Rolex in 2013. Photo by Kasey Mueller.

The Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event is right around the corner!  As in recent years, the official Rolex site (www.rk3de.org) is hosting blogs from three featured riders.  This year’s participants are Will Faudree, Ellen Doughty, and Meghan O’Donoghue.  The first installments are up, and I can’t wait to read more!

Will Faudree, on his two horses Andromaque and Pawlow:

Andromaque is a very fierce competitor. If I’m asked to describe her I always say she’s like Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada.” People and other horses are usually a little intimidated by her. And when I ride her, she’s all business.

Pawlow, he’s incredibly talented but he’s really lazy. I think he’d rather be listening to Bob Marley, playing bongo drums. He’s like Matthew McConaughey – a bit more laid back and kind of roll-with-the-punches.

  [Read more.]

Meghan O’Donoghue says it’s about enjoying the journey to get there:

I have a strong faith and I believe that I’m there for a reason – whatever competition or situation I end up in, good or bad. I believe you can learn from the bad and you take the good but you don’t get too high on it, because the low is pretty low too and you have to be able to balance yourself in the middle. So before I go out and gallop across those huge jumps, I have a strong belief that it’s meant to be. I’ve looked at my whole career that way – as my journey. And I try to enjoy the moments of getting there because the end result is just the end result! It’s about the journey of getting to a competition like Rolex Kentucky. I’m still young I have a long way to go and a lot yet to learn, but I’m enjoying every step along the way.  [Read more]

Ellen Doughty: hard work and determination will pay off.

I knew to make my dream of one day riding at Rolex and being on a US Team a reality, I was going to have to work harder than everyone else and stay focused on my long-term goals. I’ve never had a team of people behind me; I’ve had to figure out how to make it on my own. I’m out at the barn every day; most days I start at 7 or 8 a.m. and a lot of nights I don’t leave until 10 or 11, because I’ve got 14 horses to ride and can have 12 -15 people to teach in a day! Currently, I don’t have a groom that tacks up my horses or goes in the field to catch them; I have to get my horses tacked myself and untacked and cooled off properly, clean my tack, pack my trailer, etc! I stay busy every day but it enables me to actually do this full time as my career and make enough money to be able to campaign at the upper levels.  [Read more.]