Classic Eventing Nation

Tuesday Video: Wren Blae Zimmerman – Challenge Accepted

We commonly describe horses as the purveyors of wings. For 32-year-old Wren Blae Zimmerman, the horse also provides her with eyes.

When Wren was 17, she was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy, a rare genetic degenerative eye condition that renders her blind. After discovering horses via a therapeutic riding program, Wren knew she wanted to do more.

“Horses give me freedom from a disability,” Wren describes. “And I can do a lot on the horse that I can’t do by myself.”

Partnered with former grand prix jumper, Cassicasca or “Valentine”, Wren’s learned the ways of the show jumping ring with a few tweaks to her course walking technique. In a new arena, she’ll walk to divide the space into a grid using the outside, quarter-lines and half-lines. From there, she’ll walk to each jump with an aide, who helps point out landmarks and other jumps to create a “visual map” in Wren’s head. Then, they’ll draw the course onto a white board or sheet of paper, along with a description of the track written out.

“There’s all these different things that I’ve done to sort of make this stay in my mind so that when I actually go into the arena on my horse, I have a plan, I know exactly where everything is, and I know how to ride my course.”

Screenshot via US Equestrian.

“My hope is that what I’m doing will change the perception about what people with disabilities are capable of,” Wren says. “But also to push anyone to try horses. Your own strength comes, for the most part, from inside of you, so I think it’s important for people to believe in themselves and I think anyone can do anything they put their mind to.”

Wren is also involved with Para Show Jumping North America, which helps to recognize and grow this newer subset of para equestrian and welcome new riders into the program. You can follow Para Show Jumping on Instagram here.

Wren was featured in the latest video out of the I Am US Equestian series, and you can watch the full short feature here.

Thibaut Vallette Formally Retires Olympic Gold Medalist Partner Qing du Briot

Thibaut Vallette Lt Col and Qing du Briot ENE HN (FRA). Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Lt. Col. Thibaut Vallette has formally retired his team Olympic gold medal partner, Qing du Briot (Éolien II – Henriette, by Étalon OR), following a decade-long partnership that spanned the globe and saw the pair named to every senior French team since 2015. The Selle Francias gelding is 18 this year.

“Thank you Qing for all these years shared, for this mutual trust and this beautiful complicity,” Thibault shared on social media (translated from French). “You will teach me a lot and you first can be proud of how far you have come. [Longtime groom Yann Devanne], who knows you so well, and I won’t be far. You will always be our heart horse.”

Thibaut Vallette Lt Col and Qing du Briot ENE HN (FRA). Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Qing du Briot first made his mark on the international stage when he secured a podium finish — both an individual as well as a team bronze with Thibaut — at the 2015 European Championships at Blair Castle, his first time representing France in team competition. The gelding followed that up with a 13th individual finish at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, paired with a team gold medal. Thibault and Qing du Briot also helped secure team bronze for France at the 2018 World Equestrian Games at Tryon International.

The French team was set to reunite for the Tokyo Olympics last year, and Qing du Briot saw yet another selection to the senior team before a bone bruise was sustained the month before the Olympics, prompting the team to withdraw replace him with Karim Laghouag and Triton Fontaine.

Please join us in wishing Qing du Briot a very happy, comfortable, and well-deserved retirement!

“He’s Been a Very Dear Friend”: Double Kentucky Winner Cooley Master Class Retires at 17

Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class. Photo by Shelby Allen.

World Number One Oliver Townend has announced the retirement of seventeen-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding Cooley Master Class (Ramiro B x The Swallow, by Master Imp), with whom he won the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event in both 2018 and 2019.

“Very emotional to announce the retirement of Cooley Master Class today. We bought him as a 4 year old and he has for the last 13 years been a fantastic competition partner but moreover a very dear friend,” wrote Oliver in a statement on his social media pages. “His competition highlights include back-to-back Kentucky 5* wins, 2nd at Maryland 5*, team silver at the European Championships and 16 international top 10 placings. He’s now 17 years old and although still fit and well, we’ve always said it’s important that he retires from competition on his own terms and we feel that the time has come.”

Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class, winners of the 2019 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

The gelding, who is owned by Angela Hislop, has been with Oliver throughout his international career, which began auspiciously in May of 2012 with a second-place finish in the CCI2*-L at Ireland’s now-defunct Tattersalls Three-Day Event. Bred by County Wicklow’s John Hagan, he began his early education in the showjumping ring, contesting four-year-old classes under the saddle of Ireland’s Cathal McMunn before spending his five-year-old season with Steven Smith. From there, he was sourced by Richard Sheane of Cooley Farm, who set about placing him with the right rider for the job ahead — and Sheane’s savviness in pairing him with Oliver would yield the Cooley empire its first five-star victory a handful of years later.

Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Though the gelding has been prolific in his career accomplishments, he’s done so with a remarkably limited number of runs: at seventeen, he retires with just 29 FEI starts under his belt, and would often come out for just a couple of major outings per year, as part of Oliver and his team’s ongoing efforts to manage a number of ‘niggles’. In those 29 starts, he notched up an impressive 15 top five finishes, with two wins at Kentucky, a second place finish at the inaugural Maryland CCI5* last year, and a team silver and individual ninth place at the 2019 European Championships among the highlights of his career.

Oliver Townend and Cooley Master Class. Photo by Abby Powell.

Now, Cooley will step back from competition and enjoy a ‘second career’ as a hacking mount.

“Cooley is a huge character and has always made sure to be a yard favourite, so he will retire to a hacking lifestyle where he’ll continue to be treated and looked after like the king he is,” says Oliver. “I could not be more grateful to have had the honour of partnering Cooley for all these years. He’s achieved more than we could have dreamt of and we’ve literally travelled the world together with memories that’ll last a lifetime! Huge thanks to Angela Hislop, who has co-owned him with me, and who’s just down the road from his retirement home to make sure he stays spoilt rotten! Thanks for everything Cooley, and happy retirement!”

The Moose, The Man, The Champion: Doug Payne Reflects on Vandiver’s Career

Doug Payne and Vandiver. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

If you’re lucky enough in life, a horse of a lifetime may cross your path and make all of your craziest ambitions come true. We, as many have, dedicate our life to developing talented horses with the goal of representing our country in international competition. In pursuit of dreams, you often have to make decisions that are incredibly difficult. Horses, for us, are a way of life, members of our family – but, for us, they’re also a business.

The foundation for our operation originated years ago. Just after my 5* debut on a great horse named Running Order, I received a call from his owner that he would be picked up the next day and was to be sold. I tried to pull every string I could, explore every option that I could conceive to keep him with us. In the end it was not meant to be — he left the next morning and, along with him, my dreams, so it seemed. At the time, David O’Connor told me that as difficult as it was in the moment it might be one of the best things to happen to me. In the long run, it looks like he may have been right all along.

Jess and I from that point forward were determined to never be in that position again. We started buying weanlings, the first of which was Quantum Leap, to have a pipeline of talent always developing. We also aggressively tried to bolster our group of horses and we try to own at least a portion of all competition horses. This way if one was to be sold, we would have decision making power and would have funds to attempt to fill the void.

When Running Order was sold, our next most senior partner was a wonderful Preliminary horse named Crown Talisman. A few short years after, and after a sixth place finish at the Saumur then-CCI4* we, along with our partners, made the difficult decision to sell him. As a family, we decided the benefit was worth the missed potential opportunity of the Rio Olympic Games. The sale of “Tali” has laid the foundation for today’s success. I wasn’t sure what horse, if any, would eventually step up to fill his shoes — but we were more motivated than ever to finally reach the top!

Doug Payne (USA) and Vandiver. Photo by Sally Spickard.

When I first met Vandiver, or “Quinn” as we call him, it was the year after Crown Talisman moved on from our program. Little did I know, it would be Vandiver who would put my name solidly on the map, so to speak. He was the unlikely horse for the job; he was sent to us to be sold potentially as a show jumper after a difficult first Kentucky for him. After working with him for a few weeks I felt something special. Long story short, Debi, Kevin, Jess and I entered into partnership and the ride begun!

Our first FEI event together was at Richland Park in 2015, where Quinn finished second in the 2* (what is now known as 3*). The next year was spent carefully racking up qualifying competitions en route back to the 5* level. A short time later we made it back to the 5* level together with a top 25 finish at Kentucky. I can’t go forward without mentioning that Quinn’s travel buddy, emotional support human and other soulmate Courtney joined our team a few months later that same year. Just about all conditioning and rehab as well as travel has been with Courtney. His success is due in large part to her love and dedication.

Read Courtney’s reflection on Vandiver’s career here.

We were lucky enough to travel the world as a team over the next few years, experiencing many successes and a few heartbreaking moments, mostly mistakes on my part, that limited our success. To be a top event horse, I believe the most critical qualities are heart and toughness. I’ve not met a horse with more of both.

Doug Payne and Vandiver. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Vandiver is one of, if not the, most genuine horses I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. As for toughness, from the time he joined our family he was weak in his right hind. We knew he had an injury early in his life that may limit his career at some point. We have a long standing principle that our horses health is paramount. After Kentucky in 2017 we thought that time might have arrived. Without any outward treatments left to try, we chose to give him one more chance and trusted Dr. Peroni at UGA, who coincidentally has operated on Crown Talisman’s stifle as well, to see if he could help Quinn. He found some cartilage damage that he was able to clean up and gave him his best shot to extend his comfortable, competitive life.

For the entire next year we rehabilitated him. Each day he became stronger, more comfortable and confident in his newly repaired stifle. I have to credit Courtney and her tireless rehab and hours and hours of walking that gave us the best of Quinn’s year that yet remained.

We’re into our seventh season together, and it’s one that’s spanned the globe and made my Olympic dreams a reality. I always knew he would tell me, in no uncertain terms, when he was ready to move on from top sport. Additionally, I would never forgive myself, especially after all he’s given, if I pushed him beyond comfort. And about a quarter of the way around cross country at Kentucky a couple weeks ago, I felt him tell me. He’d do it, he said, but it wasn’t as easy as it used to be.

It’s my genuine belief that horses do their jobs best when they are happy, comfortable, and confident, and prioritizing these things leads to more success. They communicate clearly with us, if we’re only willing and able to listen. It’s getting more rare to see horses consistently competing – and achieving competitive results – at the top levels of the sport for multiple seasons. Vandiver’s accomplishments from a longevity standpoint are incredible and no small testament to the care he gets from our team.

Doug Payne and Vandiver in Tokyo. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

I could sit here and list off every win and accomplishment this horse has achieved, but honestly that isn’t what matters the most to me. I am certainly proud of what we accomplished, but even more important to me is that he is retiring from the top of the sport sound and happy. I can’t wait to see him out there teaching the next generation of riders what eventing is all about!

When the barn was quiet after all has settled out from Kentucky, I was lucky enough to let Quinn know that working with him has been the honor of my life, and he is a partner I will never forget. Words cannot begin to describe the emotions that come with knowing what he’s done for me and my family.

I will never forget finishing our show jumping round for the last time at Kentucky, having Brian O’Connor announce to the packed house that this was their last time to see Quinn on the biggest stage in this country. The standing ovation, the wave of appreciation for Quinn was overpowering. I’d like to think I’m not an emotional person, but that was too much for me. I’m a better horseman and a better rider because of Quinn, and to thank him seems insufficient.

To say it’s been an honor is a massive understatement, and the future looks bright as Quantum Leap seemed to sense the magnitude of the situation and stepped up to become USEF National Champion that weekend at Kentucky.

We are forever indebted to Vandiver: the moose, the man, the champion.

Tuesday News & Notes from Legends Horse Feeds



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Though the subsequent announcement of SAP Hale Bob OLD‘s retirement comes as no surprise after his tendon injury at Pratoni, it’s still a huge moment for eventing — particularly as he’d have headed to Italy this September as one of the hot favourites to take a gold medal with Ingrid Klimke aboard. More importantly, though, he’s been such a cultural rallying point for fans of the sport, who’ve so enjoyed following his adventures with Ingrid and his team, and we’ll miss seeing his happy face out and about at events across Europe. We’ll be looking back at his career highlights this week but in the meantime, thank you, Bobby. You’ve been a real once-in-a-generation sort of horse.

Events Opening This Weekend: Woodloch Stable Young Event Horse QualifierGenesee Valley Hunt H.T.Round Top H.T.Huntington Farm H.T.The Maryland International + Horse TrialsSummer Coconino HT and Western Underground, Inc. TR,N,BN 3 Day Event

Events Closing This Weekend: Cobblestone Farms H.T. IGolden Spike H.T.River Glen June H.T.Queeny Park H.T.Middleburg H.T., Unionville H.T.Aspen Farm H.T.

Tuesday News & Notes from Around the World:

Planning a trip out in the trailer to get some schooling in ahead of your next event? It doesn’t have to feel like a big deal, and you can absolutely keep the whole experience a low-pressure one — with a bit of planning ahead. [Get ready to rock and roll(tops)]

I happily embrace slob life at the barn – or at the very least, I’m terrified of colourful clothing, so I stick to my navy, tan, and black outfits. But a lot of the people who also keep their horses at my yard are a bit younger than me and absolutely committed to getting the latest matchy-matchy set – much to the detriment of their bank accounts, and often, their self-esteem if they feel like they aren’t keeping up with the trends. [Here’s why none of it actually matters]

In a groundbreaking idea I’m absolutely going to steal, Icelandic office workers are calling on the services of freelance horses to craft their out-of-office replies. Absolutely none of this makes any sense, and I’m pretty sure it’s a fever dream I’m having right now, but I’m very into it. [Hwldlfhjsdlr to you too, sir]

With the hottest months fast approaching — and the most intense segment of the season coming with them — do you know how to spot the signs of exhaustion in your horse? And perhaps more importantly, do you know how to tackle it when it happens? [Brush up on your knowledge]

Listen to This: Catch up with what’s been going on in this year’s US eventing season — plus updates on the road to Pratoni — with the latest USEA Podcast.

Video Break:

Take a ride around Britain’s BE100 (Training) championship track at Badminton:

US Equestrian Announces Team for CHIO Aachen CCIO4*-S

Graphic via US Equestrian.

US Equestrian has announced the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team for the CHIO Aachen CCIO4*-S at CHIO Aachen World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany, from July 1-2, 2022. The team will be led by Chef d’Equipe Bobby Costello.

“It is important for the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team to participate in such prestigious events as Aachen,” said Costello. “This event provides a great opportunity for our program to compete on the world stage. Thank you to the athletes, owners, and sponsors for your commitment to representing the U.S. at this Nations Cup.”

The following combinations have been selected to represent the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team and are listed in alphabetical order.

2021 Aachen 4*-S winners Will Coleman (Gordonsville, Va.) and Off The Record, a 2009 Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by the Off the Record Syndicate

  • Chin Tonic HS, a 2012 Holsteiner gelding owned by Hyperion Stud, LLC, will be Coleman’s direct reserve horse.

Buck Davidson (Unionville, Pa.) and Carlevo, a 2007 Holsteiner gelding owned by Katherine O’Brien

Sydney Elliott (Bossier City, La.) and QC Diamantaire, a 2010 Oldenburg gelding owned by Carol Stephens

Meghan O’Donoghue (Round Hill, Va.) and Palm Crescent, a 2006 Thoroughbred gelding owned by Meghan O’Donoghue and William Duhring

Competition will begin on Friday, July 1, with the dressage and jumping phases, followed by the cross-country phase on Saturday, July 2.

Tilly Berendt will be on the ground at Aachen for EN and you’ll be sure to find the most comprehensive coverage from Germany right here on EN. Aachen will also be streamed live on ClipMyHorse.TV — and you won’t want to miss the full slate of equestrian competition starting June 24!

Aachen CCIO4*-S: [Website] [Schedule] [Live Stream] [Tickets] [EN’s Coverage]

Monday Video: Meet the Fisherman Horses of Belgium

Let’s learn about something a little different on this fine Monday. We all know that many of our equestrian sports have evolved from the use of horses in daily-life over the course of history. From cavalry to farming to logging, horses have a hoof in the development of civilization as we know it. But have you ever heard of horses being used to go fishing?

Now you have. In this latest installment of the FEI’s RIDE video series, we meet a family who has kept the tradition of shrimp fishing using horses alive on the southwestern coast of Belgium for generations. While shrimp fishing draft horses might seem like a far cry from the event horses that we’re used to, we can always learn from appreciating other forms of equestrianism. After all, there are always commonalities when it comes to horsemanship and giving horses a job.

For example, one particularly relevant similarity between these fishermen and anyone looking to do right by their sport horses is their attention to the care of their horses in a way that supports their longevity and ability to comfortably do their job — whether it’s dragging a shrimp net or jumping big solid fences. Anyone with a love of horses and a passion for keeping a long-standing tradition alive can appreciate that.

Weekend Winners: Chatt Hills, Fair Hill, Hunt Club Farms, Otter Creek, Spring Gulch


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It was a big, big weekend of spring eventing action! Congrats to all you blue ribbon winners out there. The honor of lowest finishing score in the country for this weekend goes to Mary Bess Davis & Monius, who won Open Novice B at Chattahoochee Hills on a score of 18.3 — well done!

Without further ado, let’s give some credit where credit is due.

Chattahoochee Hills H.T. / USEA Intercollegiate Championships (Fairburn, Ga.): [Website] [Results]
Advanced: Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp & Cooley Quicksilver (31.8)
Intermediate: Waylon Roberts & OKE Ruby R (36.2)
Open Preliminary: Autumn Schweiss & Bamford CF (27.4)
Preliminary Rider: Katarina Midgley & Ditch (29.5)
Modified Rider: Breeana Robinette & Cape Kimberly (29.0)
Open Modified: Megan Loughnane & Lynton (30.8)
Open Training A: Sallie Johnson & Definitely Fernhill (24.6)
Open Training B: Elisabeth Halliday-Sharp & Maybach (23.3)
Training Rider A: Annie DeWitt & Offshore Cooley (31.2)
Training Rider B: Cora Severs & Cuervo (25.0)
Novice Rider A: Stephanie Letarte & GarryNdruig Albie (28.7)
Novice Rider B: Claire Gamlin & Alohomora (28.6)
Open Novice A: Grace Montgomery & Fernhill Wonder (25.0)
Open Novice B: Mary Bess Davis & Monius (18.3)
Beginner Novice Rider A: Heidi Gyselinck & Bricktop JHF (30.3)
Beginner Novice Rider B: Becky Lawrence & Incendio (36.1)
Open Beginner Novice A: Melanie Smith & Ballynoecastle TD (22.7)
Open Beginner Novice B: Rachel Miles & Cooley Keystone (21.8)


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Fair Hill International H.T. (Elkton, Md.): [Website] [Results]
Open Intermediate A: Katie Lichten & Yarrow (29.0)
Open Intermediate B: Boyd Martin & Fernhill Prezley (39.8)
Open Preliminary A: Jennifer Brannigan & FE Connory (24.2)
Open Preliminary B: Alexa Gartenberg & Frame Shamrock (25.5)
Preliminary Rider: Abby Dubrawski & Cobble Creek (34.0)
Open Training A: Lillian Heard & Bellines Quality Lady (24.4)
Open Training B: Rebecca Lee & The Dutch Master (25.8)
Training Rider: Christa Schmidt & Chakiris Star (25.8)
Novice Junior: Alden Wyatt & I’mhereallday (31.7)
Novice Rider: Curran Simpson & RF Cosmos (30.6)
Open Novice A: Alexa Lapp & FE Flint (25.8)
Open Novice B: Madison Hogan & Quintessential 39 (21.9)
Beginner Novice Junior: Lily Kratz & Hand In Hand (32.1)
Beginner Novice Rider: Gina Teresi & Match Right (30.3)
Open Beginner Novice A: Erin Kanara & Excel Star Future Hugo (32.1)
Open Beginner Novice B: K.C. Cowles & Charm City (25.3)

Hunt Club Farms H.T. (Berryville, Va.): [Website] [Results]
Open Preliminary: Jan Byyny & Beautiful Storm (29.0)
Preliminary Rider: Grace Mykityshyn & MTF Cooley Classic (26.5)
Modified A: Sydney Sturgill & Papa Pablo (36.3)
Modified B: Anna Gibson & Black Label (33.0)
Open Training A: Nicholas Beshear & One Plan (28.8)
Open Training B: Martin Douzant & Silver Ruby (27.4)
Training Rider A: Alexa Briscoe & Zempat (36.0)
Training Rider B: Olivia Devening & Maximus (26.2)
Novice Rider A: Christine Raymer & Dobby is a Free Elf (29.7)
Novice Rider B: Lance LeClair & Missy Clare (30.8)
Open Novice A: Erin Murphy & Monatrea Cooley On The Con (23.6)
Open Novice B: Mary Schwentker & Arrowbee (26.1)
Open Novice C: Nicholas Beshear & Rule of Thumb (27.6)
Beginner Novice Rider A: Bekah Bartley & Plain Brown Wrap (29.7)
Beginner Novice Rider B: Luba Abrams & Huey (28.1)
Beginner Novice Rider C: Amy Rixmann & Favarick (30.6)
Open Beginner Novice: Martin Douzant & BSF Frame Charleston (25.0)
Young Event Horse 4 Year Old: Katelyn Duda & Big Easy Empire (76.0)
Young Event Horse 5 Year Old: Stella Sunstein & Undercover Quality (79.3)
Starter A: Alana Clickner & Fauna (38.0)
Starter B: Margaret Kinsinger & Leap of Faith (39.0)


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Otter Creek Spring H.T. (Wheeler, Wi.): [Website] [Results]
Intermediate/Preliminary: Todd Wulf & Kilcannon Max (68.0)
Junior Beginner Novice Rider: Adelyn Rinehart & Wexford Cruise (29.3)
Junior Novice Rider: Adelyn Rinehart & Dandelion Gryphon (30.3)
Junior Training Rider: Laney Widmer & Gretta Roze (38.5)
Open Beginner Novice: Marlene Nauta & Winston (29.1)
Open Novice: Olivia Caspers & Pendleton (25.8)
Open Preliminary: Emily Hedberg & Quasar (52.9)
Open Training: Todd Wulf & Kando (24.8)
Preliminary/Training: Sarah Coltrin & Madam Dragon (35.4)
Starter A: Megan Schmit & Ducky (28.8)
Starter B: Hannah Mead & WL Touch of the Hops (28.0)
Senior Beginner Novice Rider: Lianne Burgess & Marisol (29.7)
Senior Novice Rider: April Holden & Simon Says
Senior Training Rider: Kendel Torrel & ALL-INCLUSIVE (31.7)

Spring Gulch H.T. (Littleton, Co.): [Website] [Results]
Open Preliminary: Amy Bowers & Del Mar Belle (53.4)
Open Training: Rosie Smith & Seamus (25.6)
Open Novice A: Jesha Marcy-Quay & Albemarle (31.9)
Open Novice B: Anna Cummings & Charlie Fly (28.2)
Beginner Novice Rider: Jacquie Schoeggl & Stellaluna (29.1)
Open Beginner Novice A: Katie Kadlecek & Catapulta (35.3)
Open Beginner Novice B: Emmy Williams & Fortunate Rebel (26.8)
Introductory A: Wendy Williams & P.S. King of Hearts (42.1)
Introductory B: Jameson Cahill & Solsbury Hill (51.9)

2022 New England Spring Symposium: Building a Partnership You Can Rely On Away from Home

Tik Maynard works on the ground. KTB Creative photo.

The 2022 New England Spring Symposium has come and gone, but the learning and lessons that took place are still at the forefront of our minds.

We were thrilled to have Tik Maynard and Sinead Maynard (née Halpin) join us, along with brand new baby Violet, here at Unexpected Farm in Maine for the second year in a row. This year, our theme was “Creating a Partnership That You Can Rely on Away From Home.” Isn’t this something that we’ve all faced challenges with?

This is a universal struggle. As trainers, we often hear from riders, “Everything goes well at home, but then I get to the show and it’s like I have a different horse.” This is a multifaceted issue that comes down to preparation; not just general preparation for the things you’ll see in your test at the show, but specifically preparing yourself and your horse for the environment of the show, which may blow both of your minds a bit.

“The show is not where you want to do the training,” explained Tik and Sinead. “When we teach clinics, we often hear riders say something along the lines of, ‘My horse did xyz at his last show, and this is how I handled it.’ A lot of the time, we can’t say that either of us would have handled it any differently in that moment, but the difference is the preparation that we do the days, weeks, and months before that show happened.

If we can be 30-40% more prepared than what might seem necessary for that show, then we’re probably going to have more success on the day.”

As Tik and Sinead explained during the clinic, we can’t just jump our horses a lot at home to prepare for our stadium rounds. We can’t just do a lot of flatwork and expect that our horses will be attentive in a totally new environment. We have to, as riders, have strategies in place that we can use easily and confidently to keep our horses with us, and recapture their minds when they face distraction.

Clinic auditors out in force! KTB Creative photo.

Ground Work

This is the one that most riders don’t automatically think of when they get to a show, but it can be one of the best ways to get your horse on the same page as you and focused on his connection with you instead of the thousands of things that are going on around him. However, it must be established strongly at home. Here are two basic strategies/exercises that are useful to train at home and then employ in a new environment that Tik and Sinead frequently use.

Staying behind the handler. Sometimes in a show environment where the energy is high, our horses will want to steamroll in front of us, even if we wouldn’t normally allow that at home. (Tik discusses how to do this in his Equestrian Masterclass courses if you’d like a visual).

Quiet work on a small circle. Not your traditional “lunging” to tire the horse out, but real, connected listening, even if just at a walk. In fact, many times, the slower the better.

Adapting Your Warmup

Usually when we arrive at a show, we plan to hop on and head into the warmup arena with all of the other horses, knowing we’ll be dodging horses and have to navigate the flow around the outside of the arena, popping off the rail a time or two to grab one of the three warmup fences in the middle. This works for some horses, but it might not work for yours.

Sinead reflected on a time when she was riding a horse that she knew would have a difficult time in the warmup arena. So, even though it was a bit unconventional, she went off on her own and found a quiet spot on the show grounds large enough for a 20m circle. This worked very well for her horse, even though it wasn’t quite the traditional warmup that we typically envision before we head into the ring. As Tik and Sinead explained, experimenting with a warmup that best suits your horse, not just what we commonly see, can entirely set the tone for how your round will go.

Maintaining Your Boundaries

Whether you’re leading your horse, tacking him up, warming him up, or actively competing, remember that it’s actually kinder to your horse to maintain the same boundaries that you set at home.

“Horses thrive on certainty and consistency,” says Tik. A lot of people feel that it’s mean to firmly set boundaries (for instance, taking time to reinforce the idea on the ground that your horse can’t drag you around, even though he’s at a show and a bit nervous), but it’s actually less kind to change your boundaries and expectations on your horse – it’s confusing for him, which can feed into his nerves and uncertainty in a new environment. He needs to know that he can count on you, and that stems from consistency.”

The 2022 New England Spring Symposium was an amazing success, and we’re so grateful for our sponsors, exhibitors, auditors, staff, and of course Tik and Sinead for making it possible.

“It’s really admirable that Chelsea is prioritizing education and learning with her business and bringing in great resources to Maine,” Tik added. “Sinead and I both felt that this was one of our favorite clinic teaching experiences that we had. Sometimes when you’re running your own business, chasing your own competition goals and helping your student do the same, it’s easy to forget to embrace everything you can learn from other people, but Chelsea really puts this at the forefront. We can’t wait to be back!”

The Athletic Equestrian: The One Exercise Every Eventer Should Be Doing

A lot has changed for me since the last time I wrote for Eventing Nation. I do not know if you heard but there was a global pandemic … I got out of the fitness industry to do a job in Health Care (I worked for a physical therapy practice) and I wasn’t allowed in my gym for about two months and had to come up with an at home exercise routine. I started training all of my clients virtually when I was used to relying heavily on equipment and the one thing the stood true for me, and that I firmly believed and still believe in, is the grounding and challenging aspect of a plank.

I know working with horses is extremely physically demanding. Trying to fit exercise in to an incredibly busy life just seems overwhelming if not impossible, however, you can find 90 seconds two days a week. You spend countless hours treating your horse like and athlete, perfecting their diet, doing the fitness work, ensuring that their shoes are the perfect fit, etc. YOU OWE IT TO YOUR HORSE TO TAKE YOUR FITNESS WITH SIMILAR IMPORTANCE.

Start with a small achievable goal. Do a plank for 90 seconds two times a week. This will start making a difference in your strength and will even get your heart rate up quite quickly. You have to hold a symmetrical position for an extended period of time and this will give you a clue into whether or not you are right or left dominant not only in your upper body but also your lower body. You might be surprised to find that you are actually dominant in your lower body on the opposite side of your upper body.

How To Do The Perfect Plank

1. Start on all fours.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

2. Walk your hands forward so there is a straight line from your head to your knees.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

3. Come down onto your elbows.

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

4. Straighten your legs and press your heels back behind you (really think about squeezing all down the backs of your legs).

Photo courtesy of Laura Crump Anderson.

5. Don’t let your back round over or your stomach drop down.

6. Hold this position for as long as you can.

How Long Should You Hold Your Plank For?

The goal should be 90 seconds two days a week. However, if you get into this position and discover it is more challenging then you thought it would be that is totally OK. IF you are only able to hold it for 30 seconds start with doing three planks for 30 seconds. Work up to doing a minute long plank. If you are doing a plank for 60 seconds do two of them until you can do a 90 second plank. If your second plank is shorter that is totally OK. You are achieving true muscle fatigue! (GREAT JOB)! IF you are getting over two minutes great! However more than two minutes is excessive and longer does not necessarily be better so stick with about the two minute mark as a max and make sure you continue to do it twice a week. Because consistency is the important thing!

This is just the beginning of the wide world of planks and in a later post I want to look at different versions that will challenge you in many ways!

Laura Crump Anderson is an avid equestrian who realized from a young age the importance of being taken care of our bodies like the athlete we expect our horses to be. Laura has competed up to Training Level in eventing on a horse she bred and started herself, and has the goal to get back out competing again on her 2019 Home-bred Still Stanley. She holds her degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science from Longwood University, is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and has her 200 hour yoga teacher certificate. Laura’s goal is to help riders be connected with their horse and be fit sound and ready to ride. Laura works with riders across disciplines from weekend warriors to Olympic athletes. She is the Owner and Founder of Hidden Heights Fitness, where you can participate in one-on-one Virtual Personal Training via zoom all you need is an internet connection, the space the size of a yoga mat, and your determination.