Competing in eventing has been a lifelong endeavor I have taken on whole heartedly. I competed in my first recognized horse trial in 1997 and from that moment on I was trapped in the sport. For most people goals are obtained and new ones are set and I have been no different. I have been fortunate enough to compete in two NAYRC competitions, ridden through Intermediate, and have had many special horses. The bond between horse and rider is one that words can not always express. When one losses a great partner for any reason it is hard, but it is inevitable that (for most of us fortunate eventers) a new partnership will come along. I am no different. Three years ago a gifted little mare came into my life, as a special partnership was beginning to wind down for my thoroughbred gelding, Final Score. I had her in training for Claire Latimer and fell into something special. Her name was Tzarina and she was a 15.2 hand, 4 year old, Holsteiner who had an attitude much bigger than her stature. I was lucky enough to purchase her in 2008. Over the last three years we have gone from a green broke mare to trying to move up into the Preliminary ranks.
I am extremely pleased to introduce our final (I think) guest writer/blogger for the Spring season, and we may have saved the best for last. Marty Whitehouse is an old friend and I can only describe her as the consummate equine professional. She always handes her horses and training program with intelligence and class; if I wanted advice on anything related to horses, Marty would be one of my first calls. Marty’s farm is located in Lexington, KY (go Cats), and I think I am allowed to say that Marty is currently applying to vet schools. Hopefully some good old fashioned EN Karma will help with that. Click here for more info about Marty. Thanks for writing this Marty, and thank you for reading. Go eventing.
I believe the hardest part in deciding to move up or not is timing. Safety and confidence both have to be in perfect alignment for one to move up the levels no matter what level this may be. Working with a trainer helps immensely for all riders even if you have ridden to the next level on another horse. Luckily, I was involved with the Keeneland Pony Club and Area VIII Young Riders which both emphasized safe riding. My young rider’s coach was Holly Hudspeth (formerly Holly Hepp) and under her watchful eye I was successful on Final Score at the One Star level. Last fall my mom and I discussed the possibility of moving up to Preliminary on Tzarina and made the decision to go down to train again with Holly in North Carolina over my Christmas Break. When riding with a knowledgeable and trustworthy trainer, you and your horse can gain confidence which translates to safer riding. Holly put Tzarina and me through many different exercises both on the flat and over fences to strengthen us for the next level.
During the week both Tzarina and I developed a new set of skills and understanding for each other. Holly had us working on staying more uphill as is needed in the new 2010 Preliminary dressage tests. Engagement and collection were also brought to our attention (since neither of these words were in Tzarina’s vocabulary) because the Preliminary cross country and stadium are becoming more technical each year. When we jumped we worked on rhythm and not interfering with her jump since that interrupts the correct (and safe) bascule over the fences. To wrap the week up (and since the weather broke) we were able to put this all together over cross country where all of the week’s hard work came together. The training with Holly led me to a deeper knowledge of my weak areas and I was sent home to work on these concepts.
Arriving home I had the confidence to set out on the journey of moving to the next level, but a set back came quickly. Abscess is a word that all eventers hate hearing and, yes, I heard it loud and clear. Ten days before my Preliminary Training at Poplar Place I hopped on Tzarina and instantly felt her off in her hind end. I am fortunate to have a fantastic team of veterinarians, Dr. Rhonda Rathgeber and Dr. Jennifer Feiner of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, that frequent our farm and determined that yes indeed she had an abscess. As riders and owners moving up can be difficult when medical problems arise, but making sure you establish a great relationship with a regular veterinarian and farrier can make the difference in whether or not you make it to upcoming shows. I also have a wonderful farrier, Matt Taydus with Limestone Forge, who put back on her shoe. I was lucky and made it to the show sound and happy once the abscess was drained.
Arriving to Poplar Place was exciting because up to this weekend I had never competed any other horse (of my own) at Preliminary, except Final Score. I had Tzarina and her brother, Caper, a 5 year old 17H Holsteiner gelding, both moving up this weekend. She was signed up for the Preliminary Training division (one of the best ideas the USEA has ever had) and he was doing his first Novice. The IP, PT, and TN are great new divisions being offered by USEA to try to provide a safer way to move up and test out the dressage and show jumping at a new level before adding a new cross country level into the mix. I had the experience I am sure the USEA was intending on having at the PT level. Tzarina was in first after dressage, had a stellar clean cross country round (in some muddy footing from local rains), and a wonderful show jumping round. I ended up third from two rails, but I could not have been more pleased. Caper ended up in third as well from the result of a brilliant and educating cross country round, where I believed he matured to the six years old he is to be this summer.
I hope that all riders reading this entry considering moving up to the next level contemplate doing it in a reasonable manner as I felt I have. I took the time at the lower levels the last three years getting a solid foundation, have had professional help that I fully trusted, and used the new Preliminary Training level to check to make sure I was safe before embarking onto a full Preliminary. I am signed up to do the Preliminary at the Valentines Day Pine Top and will hopefully be reporting the next time I write another successful step in the direction of making my second Preliminary horse.