Surefire Farm News Bits

No Fork for Inmidair • Home Again • Winter Report

Aiken Training Sessions and Pine Top • High Performance Training Sessions • Back in Aiken

4.3.14

No Fork for Inmidair

Just a quick update to let everyone know that Inmidair and I won’t be at The Fork this weekend. If you know what the paddocks are like in Virginia these days you can appreciate that I think the mud is what’s responsible for JR’s front shoe shifting a bit Tuesday and making him sore. I got that fixed but then he lost the other front shoe—blame it on springtime in Virginia! He’s better now that it’s back on but I feel it’s more important to save him for Rolex than risk his soundness by running him this weekend. I’ll miss The Fork, it’s one of my favorite events, but we’re completely ready for Kentucky, JR’s very fit and has been going great this year, so we’ll see you all in a few weeks!

3.31.14

Home Again

It’s so nice to be home in Virginia! Sorry I didn’t do an update right after Red Hills and Carolina, but sometimes life gets away from us.

I think sometimes when you have things go wrong, it’s an opportunity to think about what to fix and how to get better, rather than being devastated. At Red Hills, I was pleased with Inmidair’s (JR’s) dressage. In show jumping, I was last to go and the footing had deteriorated so much that it felt like it was hard for him to get good purchase at the jumps. He jumped the first three jumps well, but got a bit too deep at the oxer at 4, which caused my rail at 5. That, and probably my lack of balance in my upper body didn’t help, either. Then we had a rail at 6a. I might have gotten a bit too much to the inside of the line, but when you watch video it seems he also didn’t have purchase off ground. The rest of our round was not the worst, not the best; JR doesn’t want to have rails, but if he does, it will be behind. Always more to work on!

Having already gone cross-country on Syd Kent, where I had problems at the corner at 5a, I thought I rode 5a well on JR, but I was just too quick in the turn, even though I had been advised not to be, and had a run-out at b. Sometimes you have to make a mistake in order to really learn what someone means when they advise you! From that point on I used Red Hills as a school, and really thought about being able to cover distance, ride each jump with the canter I needed, and work on focus. I was very pleased with what I was able to accomplish.

Syd had the unfortunate draw of going in the worst of the rain for dressage, but still put in a nice test. His show jumping was pretty good until the triple—I think I was a bit too quick for the way he likes to jump. He felt great warming up for cross-country, jumped the first four jumps awesome, but just didn’t understand where to jump at 5a, the corners that caught out more horses than we thought they would. I thought I had the right balance and speed, but Syd’s really careful about brush and saw no clear place to jump, which I feel made him more careful. The brush was so high it didn’t make sense to him, and if a horse wanted to jump all brush it made it a hard thing for them to read.

As it turns out, things happen for a reason. I got home, jumped about ten jumps on Sunday, angling everything, and it became apparent Syd had hurt his left front suspensory, either in the mud at Red Hills or because of the change in mechanics in right front foot, a result of his injury last summer. It may be that the injury which changed the way he goes and put stress on his left front. So once again Syd is on rehab. It’s probably good, I can let the hoof grow out and maybe he’ll be ready by July or August. I have to thank Steve Teichman and Sean Crocker for so diligently helping me out with Syd.

I sold Luminati right after Rocking Horse to Susanne and Harold Lichten for their daughter, Kate. It was a really hard thing to do because I need horses for my career, but trying to financially support my own horses has become difficult so I need to sell horses to keep going. I’m really happy for Kate and know Luminati’s going to be in a great home, and when I go to Gathering Farm in Massachusetts to teach I’ll be able to see them as they’re nearby.

With Luminati gone, I had just Duke of of Diamond (Dyson) and JR for the Carolina International. I just have to say that Carolina really stepped up their game and it was a pleasure to compete there from all aspects, as a rider and an owner. JR was great. I ended going by myself and Jessica Hampf helped me get ready for my dressage. We went out and did our thing. When we went down center and turned left at C, I decided to slow down in my rhythm as we didn’t have the best footing in ring that morning. JR felt easy and was a pleasure to ride. I have to keep working on my hands and my posture, but I can tell how much horse wants to do his job. It was nice to start on top; I was so proud of him. We warmed up for show jumping with Julio, which was really helpful. We had one down at 4, JR barely hit it behind, but overall it was one of the smoothest trips I’ve had with him. Cross-country was a blast. I never planned to run for time, there was plenty to do on course, and JR felt like he was on it.

My other horse, Dyson, was not his best for his dressage test, but I would say the whole weekend was a big boys weekend for him. There was a lot to do in the show jumping and on cross-country, and even though we had the last jump down in the show jumping, it was more my fault than his. Dyson tried really hard on cross-country and was really fun to ride. I have to give big shout out to Maya Black, who was 2nd in her 2nd Advanced in a tough division.

We’re all home now, unpacking and packing again for the Fork next weekend. The plan is for Maya, Caitlin and I to each have one horse there. I'm so lucky that Tom did such nice job of cleaning the barn and fixing everything that needed to be fixed while we were gone. Thank you, Tom!

Home Again

It’s so nice to be home in Virginia! Sorry didn’t update right after Red Hills and Carolina, but sometimes life gets away from us.

I think sometimes when you have things go wrong, it’s an opportunity to think about what to fix and how to get better, rather than being devastated. At Red Hills, I was pleased with Inmidair’s (JR’s) dressage. In show jumping, I was last to go and the footing had deteriorated so much that it felt like it was hard for him to get good purchase at the jumps. He jumped the first three jumps well, but got a bit too deep at the oxer at 4, which caused my rail at 5. That, and probably my lack of balance in my upper body didn’t help, either. Then we had a rail at 6a. I might have gotten a bit too much to the inside of the line, but when you watch video it seems he also didn’t have purchase off ground. The rest of our round was not the worst, not the best; JR doesn’t want to have rails, but if he does, it will have behind. Always more to work on!

Having already gone on Syd Kent, where I had problems at 5a, I thought I rode 5a well on JR, but I was just too quick in the turn, even though I had been advised not to be, and had a run-out at b. Sometimes you have to make a mistake in order to really learn what someone means. From that point on I used Red Hills as a school, and really thought about being able to cover distance, ride each jump with the canter I needed, and work on focus. I was really pleased with what I was able to accomplish.

Syd had the unfortunate draw of going in the worst rain of day in dressage, but still put in a nice test. His show jumping was pretty good until the triple, think I was a bit too quick for the way he likes to jump. Syd felt great warming up for cross-country, jumped first four jumps awesome, but just didn’t understand where to jump at 5a, the corners that caught out more horses than we thought they would. I thought I had the right balance and speed, but Syd’s really careful about brush and saw no clear place to jump, which I feel made him more careful. The brush was so high it didn’t make sense to him, and if a horse wanted to jump all brush it made it a hard thing for them to read.

As it turns out, things happen for a reason. I got home, jumped about ten jumps on Sunday angling everything, and it became apparent he had hurt his left front suspensory, either in the mud at Red Hills, or because of the change in mechanics in right front foot, a result of his injury last summer, which may change the way he goes and put stress on his left front. So once again Syd is on rehab. It’s probably good, can let the hoof grow out and maybe he’ll be ready by July or August. I have to thank Steve Teichman and Sean Crocker for so diligently helping me out with Syd.

I sold Luminati right after Rocking Horse to Susanne and Harold Lichten for their daughter, Kate. It was a really hard thing to do because I need horses for my career, but trying to support my own horses has become difficult so I’ll keep selling everything in the barn. I’m really happy for Kate and know Luminati’s going to be in a great home, and when I go to Gathering Farm in Massachusetts to teach, I’ll be able to see them as they’re nearby.

With Luminati gone, I had just Duke of of Diamond (Dyson) and JR for the Carolina International. I just have to say that Carolina really stepped up their game and it was a pleasure to compete there from all aspects, as a rider and an owner. JR was great. I ended going by myself and Jessica Hampf helped me get ready for my dressage. We went out and did our thing. I felt JR didn’t miss much, and when we went down center and turned left at C, I decided to slow down in my rhythm as we didn’t have the best footing in ring that morning. JR felt easy and was a pleasure to ride. I have to keep working on my hands and my posture, but I can tell how much horse wants to do his job. It was nice to start on top; I was so proud of him. We warmed up for show jumping with Julio, which was really helpful. We had one down at 4, JR barely hit it behind, but overall it was one of the smoothest trips I’ve had with him. Cross-country was a blast. I never planned to run for time, there was plenty to do on course, and JR felt like he was on it.

My other horse, Dyson, was not his best for his dressage test, but I would say the whole weekend was a big boys weekend for him. There was a lot to do in the show jumping and on cross-country, and even though we had the last jump down in the show jumping, it was more my fault than his. Dyson tried really hard on cross-country and was really fun to ride.

I have to have big shout out to Maya Black, who was 2nd in her 2nd Advanced in a tough division. We’re all home now, unpacking and packing again for the Fork next weekend. The plan is for Maya, Caitlin and I to each have one horse there.

So lucky that Tom did such nice job of cleaning the barn, and fixing everything that needed to be fixed. Thank you!

3.6.14

Winter Report

Training Sessions

I’m at Red Hills, but I’m going to back up a bit and write about how my horses have been going. I had a great training session with David on the flat before Pine Top, in spite of a lack of power and awful weather. Mother nature sure is wreaking havoc on us this year! David gave me some great tips, which were simple. He talked about how we get so familiar with our horses, we become satisfied with what they do even if it’s not the best work they’re capable of. I had not really been preparing Syd well enough to do a dressage test. He doesn’t feel like he can fit in a dressage ring and David’s tips were helpful as far as really preparing and reminding me that dressage is all about precision. He likened it to being a figure skater and knowing which side of blade you’re on before doing a triple toe loop. I have to be that aware of where I am in the ring, and how to prepare my horse to get the best movements. It was a good reminder for me. Half the battle is to be precise. William Fox-Pitt made the same point when I did the clinic with him last fall—if you get all 7s on your test, you’re going for the clean round. David really helped me with some tools to do that.

I also got to jump with our new show jump coach, Silvio, who seems like a nice guy. It wasn’t an ideal prep for me because I hadn’t jumped JR since Pine Top, but it was more him getting to know the horses so it was okay. It was fun to watch Doug Payne and Will Faudree in the group before me, and both horses got better with Silvio’s help.

Pine Top

At Pine Top I was pleased with all four horses. JR’s dressage test was one of best we’ve had, although I missed all four changes. He was so rideable that I didn’t put him together and that’s why I missed them. The test itself was fun! He warmed up well for show jumping, then went in and stopped at the first jump!. I never felt coming; Philip and David didn’t either. I was shocked, then hit him hard, twice. Then we had one of the best rounds ever. Cross-country was flat out fun.

Syd ran in the Intermediate because he hadn’t been out since Millbrook, where he injured himself. His dressage was really lovely, consistent and rideable. Unfortunately, I had an error because I posted the medium trot; I forgot to look at the test beforehand, and often you can post the first medium so I thought I was okay. He was awesome show jumping, and cross-country with Syd was fun, fun, fun.

Luminati was much better in the dressage at Pine Top. I’ve been working to have some tools with him and took ten points off my score. His show jumping was really nice and so was his Preliminary cross-country.

Dukey did his first Preliminary at Pine Top. He was second in the dressage, had one rail show jumping, and was a bit lookey on the cross-country. It was a lot of course for him, but he has such a good attitude and got better as we went.

I have to give a big shout out to Maya Black, who did her first Advanced. She’s been waiting six years for that, and though it wasn’t an ideal competition for her, it was awesome for her to do it and I’m so proud of her. And Caitlin Calder rode the best yet in all three phases. We’re keeping it simple; back to basics is always important.

George Morris

I was lucky to do the George Morris clinic on Monday and Tuesday. Boyd Martin invited me to ride and hosted. The whole clinic was about simple basics and classic riding. For me, it was all about my arms, trying to carry my hands a bit and keep my arms a bit looser. The one exercise George told me practice on a daily basis is to move my arms from my shoulder at the walk for a softer, more supple arm. Anyone who watches me ride would probably agree I need to do that! It was fun to watch every horse in the clinic jump better under his instruction. He had Doug just drop his horse, giving at every jump and following the horse’s mouth, to stop managing so much, and the results were visible. What an honor to ride with George, who is a master, plus he rode Kaylin Dines horse, who I was lucky to have there, and commented on how beautiful to ride and how well broke he is, which made Kaylin smile. The group was so fun because they were really good riders—Phillip, Boyd, Doug, Ryan, Will Coleman, Colleen Loach—and though there weren’t a lot of big changes, George added something to every person to make them better.

Full Gallop and Sporting Days

Maya had a good, successful Wednesday event on the babies and then again on the weekend, including second in Preliminary at Full Gallop on Edmonton Affair over a really difficult show jump course and quite a hard cross-country. Roundhouse Red went to his first event ever and was second in Beginner Novice. Call to Order, who’s not great on the flat yet, had good week at both Full Gallop and Sporting Days, in spite of the warm-up at Sporting Days when Novice was going cross-country nearby while he was warming up for dressage—quite exciting for a young horse! I decided to ride Luminati and Dyson at Sporting Days and got in at the last minute. Both were really good on the flat, and had beautiful show jumps, though Dyson had one rail. Luminati was quite quick cross-country and ended third. I took my time with Dyson and he was even more grown up than the weekend before.

2.14.14

Aiken Training Sessions and Pine Top

I rode Inmidair (JR) in the training sessions with David. We got lucky with the weather and were able to at least ride two of the three scheduled days. David is all about going back to the basics, making sure that you have a half-halt and can change pace when you change your hips, or can half-halt and not change pace, whichever you’re trying to achieve. With JR I always have to make sure that when I go forward, I’m able to put him over his neck, or deeper than I think I should, so that he thinks about staying on the bit instead of above it and getting a bit wild. Even though I haven’t been working JR the way David wanted me to that day, it was a great exercise to get me out of my own box and test the parameters of where my half halt really is. The last ten minutes of work was amazing. I came away with good food for thought, and though I haven’t quite achieved the same results since then, I’m looking forward to doing more on the flat with David.

The jump lesson was again back to basics. We worked on making sure that I can have enough pace going in to be settled at the jump. JR is so careful and David helped me to stay softer in my seat than I want and trust that he won’t have a front rail down by staying over him in the air. JR, as most of you know, has his own unique style, but if I remember to ride him as David taught—and I can stay on him—his jump is amazing!

Thank you so much to Stable View for hosting the training sessions at your beautiful facility. It was also nice to work with two of the three vets that are helping the team, Dr. Mark Revenaugh and Dr. Susan Johns. We have a good system in place, with David as coach, Joanie as his brains and right arm, and fantastic vets.

We finally had out first competition of the year at Pine Top. I scratched Syd because we’ve been trying to figure out a crack in his foot. After a meeting of the minds between farriers Sean Crocker and Steve Teachman, Syd’s foot was patched up for support and I’m happy to have him good to go, hopefully for the rest of the season. We’re over the hump at this point with the crack that originated from an injury at Millbrook last summer.

I did get to run JR at Pine Top, and he was so fun! He was fifth after a nice dressage test, show jumped great on his part (I could still be a bit better staying with him in the air), and really fun to ride cross-country. I was completely surprised to win, though, as it was our first time out since Fair Hill and I was just trying to have a good go with him!

The young horses, Duke of Diamond and RF Luminati, did their first event of the season at Pine Top, too. It’s nice to have Luminati back and he was completely respectable. You can tell I’ve only ridden him about six months, even though I’ve had him over a year. I need to get him a bit more broke and add some more tools, but he’s such a good jumper and mover and a pleasure to ride. Duke of Diamond, who we were calling Dyson and is now being called “Dukey” in the barn, didn’t disappoint as my old lady horse. He’s so great to ride and put in a nice flowing test. He may be the most broke horse in the barn even though he’s one of the youngest! His show jumping was good but unfortunately I had a rail—he didn’t—because I added in a line. I also misjudged the time cross-county, and though he jumped beautifully we had some time.

It was really fun to watch Maya Black compete her horse, Doesn’t Play Fair. Mark my words, that combination is going to go far in this sport. He’s tiny but can really move and jump. Caitlin Calder also had great weekend on Jolliyat. We were so lucky to have my Mom here visiting and to help groom and support. It’s nice to have the A team!

I’ve never ridden in such nice weather at Pine Top—there must be something wrong with the atmosphere... I’m so excited for the next outing there, where I’ll have all four horses—Dukey will move up to Preliminary, JR will be in the Advanced, I might run Syd in the Intermediate for his first outing, and I’m giving Luminati some time to get fit and will do a couple more Preliminaries with him before moving back to Intermediate. I feel lucky to have four horses to ride; sometimes you need that many to have one!

1.30.14

High Performance Training Sessions

Many thanks to Kate Samuels, who took the following pictures of Jan and JR at this week's training sessions in Aiken.

1.18.14

Back in Aiken

Happy New Year! To be honest, I don’t know how everyone else feels, but the holidays seem like long time ago now.

We migrate south right after first of year like a lot of eventers, but first I’d planned a vacation with family. Right before I went away for Christmas I unexpectedly found myself without help in the barn, so I had to make some last-minute changes; who would ride my horses and pack for Aiken while I was gone? It was a bit of a big debacle, but my New Years resolution was to not to stress over and get to upset about small things, so this was a good test of that! People who know me know that I get my hackles up when things go wrong, but I feel it’s always good to try to improve yourself and be a better person, and that was my goal for 2014.


Christmas with my nephews and brother

Lucky for me, Jen Simmons came to the rescue and she and another girl, Carly, rode my horses in addition to her own each day. Jen is a lifesaver and a great friend. I had called Caitlin Calder, who was coming to help me in Aiken anyway, to see if she could come earlier than planned, and she took over when Jen left for Florida, riding eight horses a day and, with Adolfo’s help packing the trailer, so I had very little to do when I came home from skiing. Tom and I arrived back on the second of January, and as luck would have it the next day we got 3-4 inches of snow. It was so cold with, with 50 mile-per-hour winds, and all the roads and schools were closed; the weather was brutal. I again used using my new resolution— no stressing! I decided to not worry that I hadn’t ridden for two weeks and helped Caitlin pack some more and oversaw the trailers being loaded with hay. No stress, don’t sweat the small stuff.

Tom and I arrived in Aiken Saturday afternoon and met up with Maya Black, who had come back to work for me, and her dad. It’s such a great pleasure to have Maya in the barn. She’s an amazing rider, a really good teacher and just a nice person. If I’m lucky and keep my resolution I might get closer to being as kind as she is.

We all moved into the barn on Sunday and were ready for the horses to arrive Sunday night. It was probably the easiest move-in ever and the Newbridge management was great about getting the barn ready for us. They also had a big surprise for me, a new ring built by Joe Watkins from Longwood Farm South with beautiful GGT footing.


Aiken sunrise

For anyone who was here that Monday and Tuesday, January 6th and 7th, it was freezing! I decided to not ride for two days—don’t sweat the small stuff, and to be honest, weather is the small stuff. All horses are settling in, and we have more sale horses that are fun to ride. Danielle Quinn, who does the jumpers, is back with us, too. We’re all going to go do a couple small schooling shows in next week, and take time to enjoy the young horses and get them acclimated until we begin competing them in March. All my horses are going well so far and I’m enjoying the fact that I’m back riding. Here’s to the next time. I’ll let you know how my New Year’s Resolution is going!

12.16.13

USEA Annual Meeting and Conference

I like to attend the annual meeting every year because, in spite of the cost and the time away from the farm, I feel that if you’re passionate about a sport, one you make a living in or want to improve, it’s really important for riders at all levels to attend. There were some great speakers, I’ve heard a highlight was Daniel Stewart, who I unfortunately missed but I watched the video clips of his presentations on the USEA site. He has the motivational sports psychology part down, and has really great exercises geared toward rider fitness. Every level of rider would benefit from learning more about his program.

The Active Athletes, under Phillip and Buck’s guidance, is the most effective group of upper level since I’ve been involved with since becoming involved. These are riders working hard to make our sport better and to make difference and I’m proud to be part of it. One focus has been to improve transparency and communication about things like selection procedures, so that they are understood by everyone involved with our sport. Another area we’ve looked at is ensuring that our cross-country courses are doing the right job to prepare our horses for the level.

I’m also proud to be co-chair of the Young Rider Committee, though am so sad that Tim Murray’s stepping down as my co-chair due to obligations with the Rules Committee, which he’s now on. I’m very happy to have Diane Snow take his place. It was Diane who brought forward the idea of an emerging athlete program; we encouraged her to put a sub-committee together and gather the support she needed and now we have this important program to identify and bring along young talent. As always, Vicki Fine has a done great job with the Young Rider Mentorship Program, which pairs young riders who don’t make their area championship team with event officials in order to experience the administrative side of eventing.

Another highlight of the convention for me was David O’Connor’s key note speech. His passion for the sport was obvious throughout his entire talk and it’s exciting to have a coach that’s so good at communicating that. He’s done a great job developing the Under 25 and Developing Riders programs, and my hope is that more attention is paid to older riders as well. I think something that was really exciting was that David started his speech stating his belief that we’re all in this sport together, it is one sport that accommodates the goals of both lower- and upper-level riders, amateurs and professionals. I couldn’t agree more. I practice the same things that everyone else who has event horse, no matter level, works on every day. As a four-star rider I try to perfect the last 10%, but we all make the same mistakes, have the same highs and lows, experience the same thrills whether we’re going Novice or Advanced. It was just so great to hear David say that. We should embrace our sport as one.

I was really honored to win two awards at the convention. The first was for Inmidair, who received the PRO Horse of the Year sponsored by the Segals and in honor of My Boy Bobby. I’m so thankful for Cassie and Carl Segal’s support of our sport and I’m proud to call them my friends. The award recognizes the horse that is most successful at the CIC and CCI levels, and is weighted more heavily toward CCI results. I was so lucky to be the recipient of a brand-new award that the Segal’s commissioned, a beautiful glass trophy with a 3-D image of My Boy Bobby etched inside and Inmidair’s name engraved on the outside. JR is completely honored to win the award, of course he thinks he’s won at least ten awards and his only regret was not being there in person to give a speech. I can’t thank enough my whole team of supporters who helped to get JR to this point, and who have supported me through thick and thin, particularly my Mom and Dad.


Photo by StockImageServices.com

I was (almost) completely surprised by the second award. I have to be honest that I was a bit suspect of my parents and Tom both wanting to go to the meeting and thought something might be up. My Dad is on The Event Owner’s Task Force, but could have called in to their meeting. By the time Saturday morning rolled around I was completely suspicious as anyone who knows my boyfriend, Tom, would know that the last place he would want to be would be the convention; he’s very supportive but it’s not exactly his idea of a vacation. I was humbled to win the Ironmaster Trophy in honor of Neil Ayer, who was such an influential person in our sport. I know one recipient has been Amy Tryon and it makes me so proud that it’s something I share with her.


Photo: Leslie Threlkeld/USEA

Back home in Virginia, I’m trying to survive the snow without an indoor. I can’t wait to go to Aiken and we’ll be there on 5th. Happy holidays to everyone!

11.26.13

William Fox-Pitt Clinic


Kate Samuels photo

Winter has officially arrived in Virginia; luckily for us we don’t have snow yet. I had a real highlight this November--riding with William Fox-Pitt at a clinic at the Morningside Training Farm. Kaylin Dines kindly offered me Why Not to ride because JR’s still on break. I found William’s training philosophy to be a lot like mine, which was encouraging.

He had a couple key points that really hit home for me. Some of them are things I knew but needed to be reminded of.

First, always have a plan for what you want to do with your horse. Be strict about your plan without adding tension.

Second, William pointed out that while we always strive for a clean round in show jumping or on cross-country, we don’t practice getting a clean round in the dressage ring enough. Point taken. He stressed that the walk is something that no one practices enough, it’s completely underrated, yet counts for one-third of our test marks.


Kate Samuels photo

He also reminded us to practice having a sense of calm while warming up, which will eventually instill a sense of calm in all our riding, whether we’re warming up for jumping or doing a dressage test. Remember to breath out.

When things go wrong, use more leg. Do more rising trot. Your contact should always be definite, teaching your horse to take the weight of the rein.

I trot jumps fairly often, but am taking William’s advise to add walking at jumps to help teach my horses to look for the jump.


Kate Samuels photo

Incorporating William’s points into my riding and training is a great way to start the winter months. They add to my own riding and give me things to teach other riders. Thank you Morningside Training Farm for hosting and Kelly Gage for organizing the clinic.

Coming up, I’ve got a couple clinics to teach and will be attending the annual meeting in Cincinnati at the beginning of December. I’m taking a quick trip to Colorado at Christmas to ski with family, and then will be heading down to Aiken on the 4th of January. Until my next update, keep warm!

10.24.13

Fair Hill

Photo by Sara Lieser/The Chronicle of the Horse

First, I just have to say that I’m completely overwhelmed and so excited about our win at Fair Hill and cannot thank my team, that has stood by me and supported me, for everything they’ve done. As you know from reading my updates, I haven’t had the easiest year. I went into Fair Hill not really knowing how my horse, Inmidair (JR) would handle the distance and his breathing after his tie-back surgery. But, I also felt a great calm within myself, and I felt prepared and ready for the competition.

I was lucky to have two new girls with me to help for the week, Ashley Emig and Elizabeth Egan. We went on Tuesday to have final jump school with Phillip, who I hadn’t ridden with him for a while. Phillip’s always a master at getting you prepared and on your game. I did a bit of stadium and cross-country and JR was great. We talked about making sure that I could take his mouth and let him be a bit more on the contact before I give, because he can get really ratty about the reins. I just make sure to make his mouth rideable first, so I can bend him and turn him and he’ll accept and stay in the contact. Then he’ll accept the leg to hand contact. Phillip’s advise was really great, and I used the same tactic again on Sunday before show jumping.

We also had Duke of Diamonds (Dyson) with us because he’d qualified for the YEH 5-Year-Old Championships. Phillip jumped Dyson for me, which was good for me to have a picture in my head. It was really fun to have Dyson at Fair Hill. I think the classes are a great idea, and I’m sure they’ll continue to evolve as a championship. Dyson went on Thursday and Friday and was really well-behaved in spite of lots of atmosphere for a young horse. I was pleased with his dressage and it was really nice to ride in the big ring. I’m not going to lie, though, it’s a long test for a baby! He was great in the confirmation portion, and then jumped on Friday, though moved down four places because he had a rail down even though he’s a great jumper. All in all, he handled the whole situation well, and I was quite pleased with him.

JR was great at the jog and for once we had beautiful weather at Fair Hill, as everyone knows. I went on a little hack on Wednesday, and had a dressage lesson with Jackie Brooks on Thursday. We worked on making sure JR was rideable and connected so that I had the tools I needed the next day in the ring. I don’t often pre-ride JR before dressage because I don’t want to tire his back, but I did take him for a couple hand walks and let him be in the atmosphere. I got on about a half hour before our test and put him together. JR got a bit excited toward the end of our warmup but still felt great in his body. I was really pleased with our test and thought the trot work was some of the best I’ve had with him. He got a bit hot in the canter and it was good that Jackie saw his test and so she can help me better knowing how he gets in the ring. Sometimes he can be like riding a stick of dynamite!

The cross-country course was typical Derek, with a lot of combinations and the terrain making for a three-and-a-half star. I think the footing was actually a bit hard from lack of rain near the end of the day when I went. The course suited my horse, though. I had a plan before I went out and stuck to it. I felt like I rode the first water off my eye; it was right there in the five. I got five to the three in the ring, and then did the three at the coffin only because I’d had a stop there the year before and didn’t want to repeat that mistake, and I knew the two out for the coffin was incredibly long so I had planned to do a tidy little three.

One of the reasons why Derek is such a good course designer is that a lot of things are on a 12-foot stride, and with terrain that often produces a bit of a half stride so that you have to really know what kind of jump you need for your horse. I was held right after the Chesapeake water, the jump judge was trying to pull me up in the water but I jumped the out before pulling up. I learned later that two people had fallen on course and if I fell, they didn’t have the medical staff to attend to me if I had a problem. I was lucky to have Jessica Hampf and Doug Payne right there, they put a clock on me and were helpful with the jump judge.

Because of where I was held, I wasn’t able to get good running start to resume, and I had been right on my minute mark so I knew I would need to make up time I’d lose getting back to speed. Lucky for me, at home I’d been doing 10-12 minute gallops with a two minute walk and then a four to five minute sprint, so when I was restarted, I picked up the canter and JR quickly went faster than he had been before we were held. From that point on we picked up speed, and were great for the rest of course. I did take the option at the log drop at 21 A/B, because I knew if I had a silly run out or fall I would be kicking myself. The option wasn’t that long, I have a great galloping horse, and I didn’t want to have 20. We were neat and tidy through the combination, and JR pulled up great.

The next morning JR was feeling really good, and was fine for the jog. I had a plan for my show jumping, walked with Phillip, and had Bruce Davidson and Kendyl Tracy to warm me up and set jumps. Bruce asked if nervous, and Buck replied for me, “No Dad, we don’t get nervous for show jumping, all we can have is a rail down. It’s not like you’re going die!” I thought that was a good way to look at it! So I warmed up with Kendyl and Bruce, and JR jumped well. When I went in it was announced that I didn’t have rail in hand. That didn’t add to my nerves, but I got a bit excited in the one stride at 9 A/B and was a bit flat in middle and had a rail. At that moment I thought, Oh my god, I just lost the competition again! I got a bit rattled for a second, mad at myself, but as I was coming to fence ten I told myself to just calm down, I still had to jump rest of course. I got a bit out of myself and had to put myself back in my box! I thought, calm down, jump the rest of the course, and the rest was great. Then it was announced I had won!

I can’t thank everyone enough for all the support. I have truly been overwhelmed by kind words and congratulations. Thank you to everyone for that. My horse and I are really happy! I am incredibly grateful to The Dutta Corp. and Tim Dutta for providing me with the incredible prize of airfare for a horse anywhere in the world. Ten years ago at Fair Hill I won two medals with my horse, Shared Dreams, when the Pan American Games were held there. It felt amazing to win there again.

9.30.13

Surefire Fall

As it always is with horses, my season has been up and down, with some things going great, and some a bit unlucky. Luminati and Syd Kent both got hurt in freak accidents, but hopefully they’ll be back sometime next year. Fall has come and summer has gone, so have clients and horses. A recent highlight, though, has been that I got to do the Plantation 3-star with Inmidair, our first time back at that level since March. We had a really consistent test, probably the most consistent rhythm I’ve had with him. Show jumping was great, but I let him drift just a bit to the left in the triple and he just touched a rail behind. Cross-country he was amazing, it was easy, with a great rhythm, and I felt like we were both focused on the job at hand. JR even handled the water great, better than I did! I have to say that JR and I haven’t had the best luck, but when we put it all together, he’s probably the best horse I’ve ever had, and I’m really excited about getting the chance to do Fair Hill again with him. I’m pretty excited to take Duke of Diamonds (Dyson) to the 5-year-old YEH Championships at Fair Hill as well, and I think he’ll run at Morven before that, while JR will do a combined test there.

My workload has been a little lighter than normal lately, but I have been busy with clinics in the Boston area, Colorado and Louisville and I’m really enjoying teaching. I’ve developed some great relationships with the riders and I love helping them.

On the home front, it’s been a nice time for me to work on myself and restructuring my business, which I’m gearing more toward sale horses. Two new people have joined us to help out and learn, Ashley Emig and Elizabeth Egan. Both have horses to ride and are a nice addition to Surefire.

7.12.13

Surefire Horse Trials

This year was the tenth year anniversary of our horse trials! It was a great event, and we were lucky enough that we had probably the best weather and footing we’ve ever had. Even though entries were down, I think the courses were fantastic and the Surefire Horse Trials team did the best job they’ve ever done.

My thanks start with Christy Stauffer, who is the brains behind the whole horse trials. Christy’s in charge of all the details, including me! And now she has a great partner in crime, Lisa Welch, who helped out for the second year--they’re known as the dynamic duo. Then there’s Tom Finnen, who makes sure that everything about the horse trials, from mowing the grass, to aerating, to fences--every single detail is dealt with. The farm never looked better and even the weather cooperated!

The rest of the Surefire team: Kendyl Tracy, McKenzie, Emily and Steve Ragan, Claire O’Connor and her mom, Terry, Sunny Green, Adolfo Hererra, the #1 course decorator Po Thatham, the special caterer Nanky Doubleday, safety officers Dick and Jo Byyny, my nephew Brandon D’Sa, course builders and designers Trav, Joe and Tremaine, and Secretary extraordinaire Mary Coldron--all worked their hearts out to make it happen. With everyone putting in their best, we got great prizes donated and the winner of the Intermediate division, Sally Cousins on Ideal Contini, was awarded $2,500.

I think sometimes people don’t realize what really goes into events. We always try to make it better each year, and sometimes we get it right, sometimes not. I thought the courses for both cross-country and show jumping were the best we’ve presented; every year we try to make them better and more consistent. We had a really great trade fair this year, too, and we hope to have everyone back next year. I felt the fences were decorated better, with good use of brush, and we aerated the dressage area and show jumping field twice, making the footing really great. We kept all the tracks mowed so the turf was good, and we fertilized everything. We can’t change the long walk from trailer parking, but maybe sometime we can add shuttle system to make getting to the rings easier, one thing at a time!

 

6.20.13

Surefire’s May

The month of May flew by! We took some horses to MCTA and the weekend was successful for everyone involved. I also had my Preliminary horse, RF Luminati, at Plantation and he was great. But most of our month was spent gearing up for the one-star at Virginia. Kaylin had Why Not in the two-star, and Kendyl did her last Preliminary to qualify for the one-star at Bromont. Kendyl and I were also lucky enough to ride Cynthy Carson’s horses. All in all it was a great weekend. We lucked out because it was quite chilly and we didn’t have to deal with the Virginia heat.

A highlight of the event was Chase Shipka winning the one-star in the juniors on Victory Shetan. She also jumped around clean with all three horses on cross-country and was 8th on Ever So Lucky and 9th with Palm Crescent.

Erika Carson won the dressage in the one-star on Celtic Prince but then unfortunately had a fall cross-county. On her other horse, V.E. Finnegan, Erika had her best dressage to date and finished 6th in one-star.

Kendyl and RF Velvet Cameron were third in the Preliminary, so for her birthday, we decided to go do the one-star at Bromont. Go Kendyl! We rerouted Erica’s horse, Celtic Prince, to the Bromont one-star at well.

The rest of the horses were great. Cynthy’s Oh Henry decided to put on his dancing shoes for the dressage and ended up third in a really competitive division. And of course Duke of Diamonds was good as always, as well as the rest of my students. It was a really fun weekend. The only real bummer was Kaylin Dines had a 20 at a turning question and didn’t qualify for Young Riders. She’ll be back this summer, though, for more miles. Kaylin’s just learning to be competitive at her new level and sometimes experience is something you get right after you needed it.

I also took Duke of Diamonds (Dyson) to the Young Event Horse 5-Year class at Waredaca.

Tom and I went to see the Rolling Stones in Chicago for his birthday and I got back just in time to fly to Bromont to cheer Kendyl and Erica on. More on that soon!

The rest of our month of May was taken up with trying to keep up with mowing the grass and getting ready for our Surefire event June 21-23.

5.15.13

Rolex Kentucky

I’m so proud of my horse Syd Kent! There are always ups and downs with horses, and having been eliminated at the Fork a couple weeks before Rolex on both Syd and JR, I wasn’t sure I’d actually get to Kentucky, but I did.

Both horses passed the jog and went on to dressage. I was pretty pleased with Syd’s test, though we lost some points from the rein back through the first two or three canter moves. He was a bit nervous and I didn’t keep him together enough, which is too bad as I’ve been getting some really good work from him this spring. I was also really happy with JR; Silva Martin, as well as Allison Springer, were right on cue to help me and he was probably the most rideable he’s been in the ring this year. You can only get better with better connection, and that’s what I’d been working so hard on with him.

From dressage on, some things went better, some not so well. Unfortunately, I had to withdraw JR because of a respiratory condition that had developed the Sunday before. We thought he’d be okay, but I felt he still wasn’t quite right and when we scoped him after dressage, I made the hard decision that it was in his best interest to withdraw. He just wasn’t getting enough air to gallop around Rolex.

As for Syd, I was quite happy with his cross-country. I think Derek always does good job designing in that the horses can see what’s being asked of them; his courses are horse friendly that way. The striding doesn’t always work out the way you think it’s going to, but the horses don’t get punished regardless. Syd started out almost too careful, which is often his nature, so when he got to first water he was a bit sticky and really banged his right hind on first element, which I almost thought he wasn’t going to jump. From there, though, the rest of the course got better and better. I felt really confident and Syd got more and more confident. When I got to the nine and 10 minutes marks, I thought I was going to be right on time, but I just slightly misjudged the time at the end and was a few seconds slow, even though Syd was plenty fit. This was my first time to do a four-star since 2009. With my eliminations at the Fork and trying to come back over the last three-and-a-half years to level four-star level, I was thrilled it all came together. I was particularly pleased that all the work I’d put into my cross-country this winter paid off.

The jog on Sunday was a bit nerve-wracking because Syd had really banged his hind leg and I wasn’t completely sure he would pass. He did, and I was elated to go on to show jumping. He warmed up really well, but I could tell he was sore. In the ring, we jumped the first two fine, but came to the third cross-cantering. I moved up to a long distance and he didn’t leave the ground to jump and went through the rails. Going to four, I didn’t shorten my reins, plus I thought I needed more canter, and we took rails there and at five, six and seven. I finally realized I was too quick, and needed to shorten my reins and get Syd together. Fence eight, the triple at nine, and fences 10, 11, 12 and 13 went really well. I wish I had reacted much quicker! I had made a mistake at three and tried to fix it it in the wrong way. I hadn’t realized how much I needed to support Syd in front. He was tired, and it had been a long time since I’d jumped around a four-star stadium. I didn’t have same horse have at horse trials.

The good news is that Syd’s come out of Rolex really well, and up to Rolex we’d never had any trouble with show jumping a clean round, so I will take away what I need to from the experience and move forward. It’s all part of process of me coming back. Some might say I was nervous, some that I didn’t react; it was probably a little of both. Every rider’s biggest challenge is to react to what’s happening as you’re riding. I could have done a better job helping Syd in the show jumping when he was tired. It’s about supporting your horse, staying in one canter and keep the balance the same. I know that but didn’t make it happen when I needed to.

Getting to Rolex is a very long process. I want to thank all the people who help me, physically and mentally: Caitlin, Kendyl and Adolfo, who run the barn; my parents, Jo and Dick; my amazing other half, Tom; and all the great friends and supporters that are here for me. Kendyl and Victoria groomed for me at Rolex, and my horses and I couldn’t have done what we did without them. I also want to thank my wonderful sponsors, whose support is invaluable and who helped make it possible to get two horses to Kentucky. Here’s to my next 4-star, or to whatever my plans are going to be this fall!

4.14.13

Southern Pines and The Fork

The plan all along was for Syd to just do the dressage at Southern Pines because all he needed was a run at The Fork before Rolex. JR would run at both. They were okay in dressage but I didn’t feel like I got their warm-up timing just right--too much on JR and too little on Syd. Sometimes I just don’t trust that I’m going to be ready to go on JR! I liked the changes to the cross-country at the Horse Park and had one of my best runs yet on JR. The course was a bit more flowing and forward thinking in the beginning, which made it easier to ride forward. I had the last rail down in the show jumping, but with all that rain I was really pleased with how he jumped. If I’m able to let go a bit, he doesn’t jump quite so high in the air and the round is more flowing. We ended up 6th. We headed home late Sunday. It rained the whole way, until we got about three-and-ahalf hours from home, when it started to snow. It was the worst drive with horses I’ve ever had and definitely scary. It was really nice to finally get home, though, even with three inches of snow on the ground. Tom was awesome about getting everything ready for us at the farm. He and Adolfo cleaned up the barns, picked up everything from the winter and Adolfo even pressure-washed the barn. By Wednesday we could cross-country school the young horses headed to Morven-- Dyson in the Training and Luminati in the Preliminary. Dyson had a small disobedience at the water and Luminati did his first Prelim and didn’t really have a counter-canter yet so his dressage wasn’t the best, but he was great in the jumping phases.

Both Syd and JR prepped well for The Fork and I was lucky to have Mom fly in to help me. I always look forward to this event, even though I’ve never had the best luck there. The weather on Thursday wasn’t great, and my results weren’t either. Syd performed his normal steady test in an absolute downpour Thursday afternoon and I was pleased considering. JR went Friday after lunch. He warmed up well but right before we went, the two boys who were picking up the tests from the judges decided to run out of the ring right in front of me. JR stopped, stood up and freaked out! I tried to move on but he was quite tense and inconsistent, and our score reflected that. Both horses were amazing in show jumping and jumped clean. I felt I rode the best I have this year, so that’s always encouraging. And then cross-country. Experience is something you get right after you needed it, right? I thought the new coffin was a great exercise but I chose the wrong canter for it. I got eliminated on both horses at the out. I think my horses are careful and could have been more in front of my leg. I did get to go back and school after the event.

I’ll need to be better at Kentucky. My plan is to school triple brush coffins at home, then go to Fair Hill and run around the Advanced with both horses. If they’re confident I’ll still go to Rolex. If not, I’ll go to plan B, C or D.

3.13.13

Pine Top Advanced, Sporting Days and Red Hills CIC

JR and Syd were both good at Pine Top, and in spite of all the rain the footing held up and the whole event ran really well. JR was not too fond of the rain during his dressage test though, and ended with 40. It’s good to see where you are with the horses and I knew I needed to keep improving his dressage; more on that later. My cross-country was probably the nicest run I’ve had on JR for long time. He’s always brave but sometimes not in front of my leg, and my reaction to that was not always correct—I start to think rather than correct and that means you’re always late. So it was great that I was able to use what I’d been working on with Phillip and keep him in front of my leg the whole time. JR was fairly good in the show jumping, maybe a bit under-paced at times, and jumped well in spite of his rider almost getting jumped off and losing her way for a few seconds because she wasn’t looking up! Plus, I lost my stirrup and didn’t get it back till the end of the course.

Syd was beautiful in dressage, very easy and didn’t mind the rain. I had two scratches in front of me could so I could go when I wanted. I knew when I was done that it was a great test, so fun to ride, and he scored a 24.1. He was also great on cross-country, in an easy rhythm, very confident and better at the water than he had been at Pine Top I. Syd’s show jumping was interesting—because of all the stone dust they’d put down due to the rain, he was a bit of old coot! He galloped in and was so spooky I had a hard time riding him until we got over the third jump. But, from there he got better and better and starting jumping really well at fence seven. It was a nice way to start the season.


Syd, Pine Top Advanced. Photos by Samantha Clark.

I ended up going to David for a dressage lesson on JR so that that I could work on some things; I needed a new approach before Red Hills. We worked on JR accepting the contact regardless of the frame he’s in, and always holding the contact no matter what. At the same time, David reminded me to always reward JR by giving when he’s good, but not allowing him to drop off the contact.

Working on contact with David

I had a really good jump schools with both big boys and the young horses with Phillip then ran both Dyson and Luminati at Sporting Days. I also and did a dressage test with both Syd and JR. After my work with David, JR was much better, and Syd scored a 24. Both the young horses went Training, which was maybe a big ask for Dyson, but the Novice jumps are so easy for him I need to have something bigger to ride to. Plus, he’s quite brave. Dyson’s dressage test was nice, though I had a bit too much warm up. He was beautiful in show jumping with just the last jump down. Cross-country is easy for him and provided a good school. It was Luminati’s first time competing and he put in a pleasant test, and was really fun to ride show jumping and on cross-country though it took about three jumps cross-country to get him focused he was so spooky. He was great at ditches and water. Dyson ended 8th in THB and Luminati 4th in THA. I’ll do one more Training at Pine Top with Dyson and Luminati and maybe do Preliminary at Morven if I feel they’re fit enough.

The rest of the Surefire crew had a fantastic weekend at Sporting Days: Chase was 1st on Ever So Lucky and 3rd on Palm Crescent in the JYOP and second on Toddy in OTA, Kendyl won the P/T on Velvet and was 7th on McFly in OND, McKenzie Ragan was second in JYOP on Surefire’s Anwar, Aisling Carroll won JTR on Fluff and Cinthy Carson was 6th in BNA on Popstar.

With all the scare of EHV-1, we didn’t leave for Red Hills until Thursday morning. My Mom and I took down Kaylin Dines’s horse Why Not, and my two, Syd and JR. Caitlin had her Advanced horse Jolliyat and Erika Carson had her two one-star horses. Red Hills is a really well run event and a good test to see where you are with your horses. I was slotted first to go on JR, and again his dressage test was improved, maybe a bit conservative but fairly correct for a 47. Syd was beautiful to ride, but even though I had already ridden the test once, I forgot the halt and rein back and didn’t let the test flow too well after that. I hate it when you have a pilot error, there’s no excuse for that! I just got thinking too far ahead in the test. We still had a 50.5, but I know it should be better.

My goal for cross-country was just to have a good run on JR and get all the jumps done, make sure he was on his game and put into practice all the things I needed to. Thank God Phillip was in the warm up because JR almost stopped at the first roll top he was spooking so much. Phillip gave me a pep talk and told me to use a lot of spur, spur him harder!! He ended up being great on course. I was a bit quicker on Syd, though he landed on all fours into the last water but otherwise was really nice to ride. Both horses show jumped beautifully and I had two of only ten clean rounds in the 3-star division. JR ended 8th and Syd 11th.

Kaylin and Why Not were 14th in the one-star, which was a really competitive division. She had a bit of an unfortunate dressage but didn’t add anything else to her score. In the same division, Erika had nice test on Ricardo and some improvement on Finn in dressage, but unfortunately didn’t have the best timing with Ricardo and had a stop cross-country and two rails in show jumping. Finn was really good for her in show jumping and ran around clean and fast cross-country once Erika had woken up from Ricardo. Caitlin Calder had a nice test on Jolliyat, but had a stop and some time cross-country where she said she just went to sleep a bit. She had three down in show jumping and a bit of time. I think she was a bit too concerned about distances and didn’t ride the canter, which happens to all of us. We were lucky to have Kendyl Tracy fly down to help and the Carsons—Jay, Cinthy and Erika—were a great team after cross-country.

It’s amazing how time flies here in Aiken. We’ll head home after Southern Pines II and Surefire South will be north soon.

3.12.13

Jan and Syd go Viral!


This photo of Jan and Syd Kent in a lesson with David O'Connor by photographer Pamela Blades Eckelbarger received over
10,000 hits in 24 hours on the Hoof Pix Facebook page. For more photos of Jan go to http://hoofpix.zenfolio.com/f313036386.

2.23.13

The Under-25 Ocala Training Sessions
Kendyl Tracy

Kendyl on RF Cameron Velvet in a lesson with David

Kendyl has ridden with Jan for years and gave us this great account of her experience at the Under-25 Training Sessions. Photo courtesy of Meghan O'Donoghue.

The sessions were held January 27 to February 1 at Meredyth South in Ocala, Florida. Right off the bat I’d like to thank our host Jacqueline Mars, and also Colby Blazas of SmartPak and Jennifer Holmes of Toklat for sponsoring us.

There were ten riders plus me auditing because just prior to the training sessions, I had sold my mare, Ever So Lucky, and purchased a young horse that’s not at the two-star level. I had a great opportunity to sell my horse in the barn to a young rider looking for experience at the one- and two-star level, thought was great time to do it and frankly couldn’t afford a new horse without selling her. I’m really excited for myself, excited for Chase (her new owner), but of course have mixed emotions as "Bagel” had taught me so much.

The training sessions were a mixture of lectures and riding. In both, David emphasized the basics, reminding us that you can get away with things for a while, but invariably, it’s your day and then the holes will show up. He talked about how we learn sports and related riding to other sports, emphasizing studying in the classroom first so we have a good grasp on what should be doing. He went into a lot of detail about our aids—voice, legs, seat, body weight and hands.

He then broke up the aids to explain what they should be used for, and was adamant about the importance of being consistent so the horse knows what you want. For instance, he defined the seat as being from below the rib cage to our knee, and how it’s used to influence the trot: up and down for more energy and more forward, how an open seat moves with the horse’s back, how seat is more important than leg and hand. He spoke about pressure on and off, release as the reward, and how we teach our horses to ignore us because we’re using our aids incorrectly.

David’s teaching method involved asking us a lot of questions, but we were also able to ask him questions. He did things like have us stand and move our bodies to learn lateral work.

Another big emphasis of his teaching was learning to place the horse’s feet and to recognize that if they’re hard on one side or stiff in the bridle, it often means their feet are wrong. Knowing where the horse’s feet are relates to accuracy and knowing where their feet are in the ring. Because horses tend to step out of a circle, he used tennis balls in a 20-meter circle on the ground as a visual for riders to always know where the horse’s feet were. He also outlined two ten-meter circles and had riders stay straight on the centerline, which is hard to do when the circles get smaller! It was amazing how much more accurate people were by the end of the week.

In addition, David insisted that the riders knew ring geometry and where circles and movements should fall. He stressed always looking a quarter circle ahead, and before the center line, looking a quarter of the way around your ten-meter turn to avoid cutting in.

The riders rode in groups of three or four on the flat, which forced them to be much more aware of their horse’s tempo. Even if some horses were hot the first day, but the end of the lesson they all looked pretty much the same. It was interesting how people who looked down at their horse’s head were always behind because they were concentrating on their horse and not the other riders. Once again, David related this back to always thinking ahead when riding a test. He also had riders work on lots of forward and back created purely from the hip, keeping the horse on circle or line, and not drifting on the diagonal by putting the horse’s nose at the letter and turning with the hip.

The next morning we had a lecture on jumping and rider responsibilities and position. David emphasized that further than five strides out, the rider is responsible for direction, speed, rhythm, balance and timing; these should be done and you should only be reacting to the distance and timing after that. Riders need to be able to recognize a distance no matter what canter they’re in. David used gymnastic exercises to make his points. He had the riders come to a wide oxer and told them not to point their horse’s nose at jump, not commit to the distance because there’s usually one more stride, and to use the rein to bring the horse’s shoulder around.

We also had a lecture on course design, and building different shape jumps and how horses jump the different shapes. David described different warm-ups and how every jump counts, and the importance of knowing what type of jump benefits your horse.

In the next lecture David talked about the six things he feels are needed to get to top in Eventing, listed in this order: ambition, intelligence/emotional control, technique, selecting appropriate horses, horse/time management and talent.

The third day was a flat day and riders worked on drills and test movements. David went into specifics about recognizing where a horse should be in the movements, for instance, being really aware of where the half pass starts and finishes.

The fourth day we all helped to set a course in morning, and then we walked it without consulting with each other. After, David had riders talked about their plan for their horses. He stressed that, when time allows, you travel along. He talked about always having a plan when you land, having your canter done five or six strides from the jump, using the gaps to get that canter back, knowing where you are in a line and depending on the type of jump, understanding where your horse will land. The riders worked on seven or eight strides to combination, which is just enough time to panic! He had them test riding the number of strides, to know the canter they needed.

The next lecture we heard from Joe from KER about equine nutrition. He emphasized that owners often overuse supplements and that they can overload or cross each other out, so we really need to know how to read labels.

On the fifth day everyone had a private lesson with David. The riders warmed up on their own and then ran through a test with David scoring. Afterwards, they talked about what could be improved. It’s amazing how many points are thrown away because of lack of accuracy! The riders were mostly able to put all the tools they’d gained during week into their tests. David had riders go through the three- and two-star test movement by movement, simplifying the movements for them.

That night we had a lecture by a farrier and learned how to take off and put back on a shoe, which is handy to know. I’ll have to practice!

The last day was cross-country day. David put cones out by a small jump. He marked each stride to five strides out and used these to demonstrate how we lose time setting up for jumps. The exercise was designed to remind riders to be efficient. We had a lecture on the reasons we would change speed cross-country: fence type, terrain and lighting. He talked about rider position for galloping, preparation and jumping, and how you prepare depends somewhat on body type. He recommended galloping like a jockey, which is more aerodynamic.

The day ended with the riders going up and down two mounds, and we watched for how their hips moved with the bank. Coming down the hips come forward, but the shoulders should stay the same. The final exercise was up a bank that had a bounce in the middle for footwork. We watched the riders’ position and how their hips moved. As they dropped off the bank, it was fascinating to watch riders keep their shoulders still and move their hips—you could really see a difference in how the horses jumped down. I particularly noticed with Meghan and Pirate.

After the training session, I was able to ride my young horse, RF Cameron Velvet, with David. We worked in the canter, leg yielding off the track a couple steps and back, because he wanted to keep stepping out and the leg yielding kept his out side hind straight. We also worked on large turns-on-the-forehand and haunches to keep him moving his feet and stepping under with his inside hind. Jumping, we worked a bit on bringing his outside shoulder around, getting to a little deeper spot, and on adding and leaving out strides in lines for adjustability. We also worked on getting him to always look up and look ahead, and on tight rollbacks.

Over the week, I feel as though David inspired all of us and gave everyone the desire to be the best. Huge thanks to Joanie Morris, David’s right hand, go-to person and session organizer. I really enjoyed the group of riders, and think having David as coach will help the whole Eventing community become better, more educated riders and horsemen.

2.16.13

Lessons

Over the winter, from November through the early part of February, I feel it’s really important to go back to basics and evaluate what I need to work on with my horses and riding. That means taking lessons, having eyes on the ground to help me stay on track. Last fall after Fair Hill, where I had some success but missed the mark with JR, I called Phillip Dutton and asked him to come to Virginia to teach me. As a follow-up to those lessons, he taught me once again here in Aiken before he headed to Wellington.

For my two schools in Virginia, Phillip was all about making JR stay in front of my leg and on the same page as me. JR is a bit of a monkey, and when he’s screwing around it’s so easy to allow him to get behind in his body, it feels like his shoulders are behind me! The result is that he always adds another stride to the jumps, gets hotter and hotter and he and I get caught in a vicious cycle that’s hard to ride. Phillip wanted me to make JR travel across the ground and be with me and in front of my leg, whether I was going slow or fast. We worked more on cross-country than show jumping because I feel that’s my weakest link and something most of us don’t practice enough. With Syd, both the Virginia schools with Phillip concentrated on making him stay really correct around his turns in show jumping so that his body stayed in line. But whether riding show jumping or cross-country, the principle is the same.

When Phillip saw JR and Syd in Aiken, he was really pleased with the progress I’d made with both horses. I was better at making sure I could dictate where their body should be and at controlling their turns. He also taught me on my new horse, Dyson, who is literally just getting his feet wet.

The next thing Phillip has given me to work on is my reaction when things aren’t going well. Rather than panicking and changing my ride, he told me to let things happen and trust the horse is going to sort it out. I’m really going to think about that the next couple months! Phillip reminded me that even at Kentucky, everything can be great 80 percent of the time, but the other 20 percent might not go as well so you have to keep a clear head and trust that your horse is smart. I think that we all know that but hearing him say it me, and then me saying it to my students is a good reminder for us all and one more reason that, as a professional, it’s good to take lessons.

After my lesson with Phillip in Aiken, Mark Phillips was in town to do a clinic and I decided to ride cross-country with him because he’d had some interesting comments about my rides on JR and Syd at Fair Hill last fall. Plus, he knows both horses quite well. Basically, Mark had thought I was trying too hard with my horses and making things too hard for them. I was bottling them up trying to come back to the fences, not going with the flow. The picture was that I was against my horses. So I thought would be interesting to just have Mark do a simple school with both horses and see what he thought.

I started with Syd and jumped maybe five to seven straightforward jumps. Mark thought everything looked good. We talked about how to meet the jumps out of stride, keeping the same canter or gallop and just changing the balance to the jump. He suggested I concentrate on staying with my horse’s gallop a bit more and trust that the jumps will work out as I balance them. This became even more important as we went on to more complicated exercises involving hills, turns and skinnies. Mark had me think about keeping my horse’s shoulders up so that I had more options, and riding the turns without getting against them. As I went with Syd, I tried to keep with him, keep his shoulders up and not tighten his canter as his balance came up, even in a coffin or water canter.

As I changed horses and got on JR, we talked about concentrating on the same theme: horse’s shoulders up, create the balance, stay with them going forward. But as we went on to more difficult exercises, Mark pointed out that my galloping position was affecting the way JR traveled and jumped. Syd is so big he doesn’t really notice if I change my balance—I could be standing on my head and he’d still jump! But I often feel big on JR; I’m not, but with him I was almost trying to push my butt out behind me to stay in balance, whereas Mark had me more upright, keeping my hip over my knee with my hands down on his neck until I needed to get closer to the saddle for whatever I was trying to accomplish—jump, water, skinny, up or down a hill. It was amazing how much happier it made JR! And, after a couple times practicing, how much easier it was for me. I had felt my balance wasn’t quite right on JR, but he can be fresh I’d learned to sit back and down on him rather than just allowing him to gallop freely and balanced toward my hand. Just that one change in my position and balance at the gallop make a big difference to my horse, and was my take-away for the day.


On JR, Mark rolled my stirrups so that I could work on changing my galloping position more easily.

I’ve taken three lessons with Silva Martin down in Aiken, with a couple horses each time. She teaches the same basic theme as Phillip and Mark and she knows Syd and JR so well! Silva just really worked on me being able to feel like I could push their hind legs to their front legs, or past them, and still maintain the balance in their shoulders to the bit. She had me be really conscious, as I change speed in or between gaits, that they still push and yet wait for me at the same time. I needed to be able to either make a turn or make a circle, know exactly where their bodies were and feel like I could change their hips at any moment to have more engagement, whether I was going bigger or smaller. Silva had me really concentrate, when they were up on my inside leg, on thinking about where their hind legs were stepping, whether in a turn, circle or lateral work.

We also worked on putting my horse on a line, starting with correct positioning for whatever was to come next, and then performing the movement. For instance, for shoulder-in, I put my horse on the line I wanted and thought about riding both hind legs up to his outside shoulder. For my half-pass, I put my horse’s nose or shoulder onto the diagonal before I started to think about going sideways so that I could really control the direction, finishing the corner before beginning the movement rather than starting off sideways. Anyone who’s done this a long time as I have may feel as though they have it right but then we hear, “No, too sideways!” and realize we don’t.

Silva also had me do a lot of simple exercises, like trot to canter transitions, just to make sure I could make it look easy but at the same time, when I came back from canter to trot, still riding their hind legs forward and keeping them responsible for staying forward and carrying my weight. Simple but not easy.

It’s so nice when you feel like you have one common theme with your horses and your riding across all three phases. We want to disconnect our flat work from everything else because of the "weeee, we’re jumping!” factor. But the more you can control where your horse’s body is and affect their balance through your correct riding, the easier everything seems. Making your horse be a bit more true to your (hopefully invisible) aids, creating correct balance, working to produce a more adjustable horse able to hold a line, knowing where their feet and body are at all times—the basics. As Jimmy Wofford always says, keep it simple, stupid. And if you can, get someone to help you with that.

1.30.13

Gearing up in Aiken

So far, Aiken has been awesome. We had a couple of colder than normal days at first, but then two weeks of complete bliss as far as the temperatures were concerned. We have a really great group of people and horses this year, and with everyone’s help we had the schooling course set and the dressage ring up by Monday the 7th. That was just in time to jump a couple of my horses and Danielle Quinn’s show jumper, Corland, on the 8th so that I could show Syd and Corland on the 10th at the horse show in town. I took Syd in the 1.15m to see where he was, and had probably the best show jump I’ve had on him; I didn’t go to my elbows once! Corland, on the other hand, was a bit dead to my leg so I think I was all elbows, body and legs to make him go. He had one rail and gave me an idea of what I need to do with him for the next horse show in February—get him a lot fitter and a lot sharper off my leg.

I’ve taken my horses to Silva twice, including my new horse Dyson, or Duke of Diamond. She’s really happy with Syd and JR and loved Dyson; she told me he can probably be a pure dressage horse. It’s always good to have an out, because as we know, young horses don’t always end up top event horses. I’ve also had one jump school with Phillip right before he went to Wellington, and he was really happy with what I had done with my horses since the last time he visited me in Virginia. Then, we’d discussed that I really needed to work on the details, that my horses stay with me through all my turns and that I can’t let the canter get away from me during the whole ride. He said my next project was to make sure that I stayed relaxed when I had a mistake rather than panic and change what I’m doing. Of course I’m trying to teach all my students that as well, the trickle down effect is always nice! This year, we have Erika and Cinthy Carson, Chase Shipka, Kaylin Dines, Caitlin Calder (who works for me), Kendyl Tracy, Hannah and Ann Kreuger and Susan Merle-Smith, who have all been hard at work show jumping and practicing their circles. It’s a really fun group.

We had our first competition at Full Gallop on the 26th. I did straight dressage with the big boys Syd and JR, which was great practice, and rode the 4-star test A to see where they were. Young Dyson did his first eventing dressage test and show ever. Syd got a 68.67%, JR a 67.66% and Dyson a 22.5. The judge had some really good comments that were helpful for me and my students. On the 27th we all did the horse trials at Full Gallop and were joined as well by McKenzie Regan and my homebred, Surefire Anwar. Most had a great day and we all gave ourselves a starting point for the year. The afternoon was topped off by Dyson doing his first horse trials ever and winning. I know it was not a perfect day for everyone, but as Ryan Wood said to me later that night when I saw him at dinner, it was good to be out and to knock off some of the cobwebs. I think the most important thing about horses and competing is to make sure you always keep it in perspective, concentrate on what went well, examine what didn’t and figure out how to make it better next time—without getting your knickers in a knot!

Happy New Year!

I’m really ready for the new year and season to start. I think like a lot of eventers, the group at Surefire is pretty excited about having David as our coach. I thought he did a great job at the annual meeting reaching out to all riders about his plans and thoughts for the U.S. Eventing program. In particular, I thought his theory talk was one to hear; here’s a link to an overview on the Eventing Nation website. Basically, it’s about going back to basics when you ride. There is so much excitement in our sport from the annual meeting. I look forward to seeing how it all progresses.

I had a great Christmas skiing with my family. I love being away from the horses for a bit to get a new perspective and recharge my batteries. I’m in Aiken now, at the same farm at New Bridge Polo, and can tell you that I’m really chomping at the bit to get the season going. Hopefully, I’ll be heading Syd Kent for Kentucky this year. As far as JR goes, after my disappointing Fair Hill I think I’m going to make sure he's competitive and confident before I get any big plans going. I do have a new horse, just a baby turning five, and I’m anxious to see what he’s all about. As always, I’m looking forward to helping all my students as well. More soon!


With Tom in Colorado

Plantation, Morven and Fair Hill

Plantation was a mixed bag for me. The horses were okay in the dressage, especially Syd, who was much better than he had been at Richland, which was a good thing. Wyatt performed well, but I gave away too many points on JR, and after our good go at Richland we were back to a less good score of 52.8.

JR was first on cross-country. I thought the course had a lot of improvements, but I felt that the first part was pretty small and I found it hard to get in a rhythm. He was also behind my leg and it took till the coffin for me to realize I needed to go more forward. Once we got in gear he was much better and started galloping to the jumps. I had schooled Wyatt with a bit burr and that had worked out, but at Plantation I put burrs on both sides and once on course it quickly became obvious to me that this wasn’t going to work. All Wyatt could think about was his mouth, he was running in the wrong direction and I could barely make him go. We went around but had a stop at the coffin narrow, so I was pretty disappointed with that. But Syd was awesome—it’s so easy for him. He was still lacking some condition but was beautiful to ride and I felt like I had the horse I had a couple years back.

JR and Wyatt were both really spooky and sticky in the show jumping and I tried using my arms to make them go instead of my legs—a habit I have to get over! JR almost stopped at the pig jump but at the last second went over it. He had just that one down, but it was not one of those rounds you want to remember. There’s a pretty big crowd at Plantation and they’re quite close to the ring, which makes it even spookier than normal for the horses. Syd was his brilliant self in the show jumping and was clear.

So having had some problems with Wyatt at Plantation, I decided to ride him in the two-star at Fair Hill and to give him another run at Morven Park before that, where he was awesome and finished second; I was really pleased. As well as Wyatt went, I had such a hard time with JR’s dressage at Morven. I think he almost was peaking too early, with a lot of pent-up energy he was hot as a little firecracker! After all the rain on Sunday morning I opted to withdraw Syd and JR before cross-country because I had Fair Hill coming up, so they just did the dressage and show jumping. To be honest, I also think Karen’s fall the day before affected me more than I realized. I saw her over the weekend and knew how lucky she really was, but still, her fall impacted me.

To be honest, I was really happy I got all three horses to Fair Hill—it’s been a long time coming, maybe three and-a-half or four years, since I’ve had my best horses competing together. With that being said, my whole Fair Hill with JR was a learning experience. I rode him really hard the first couple days in order to get a test out of him. I think before that I might have just glossed over truly pushing him through all the way in the hope that I’d have a good test.



(Top left) Jan & Meghan O'Donoghue with her horse, Pirate--12th at their first 3-star! (Top right) Sixth-place with Syd Kent, Andie Bicho photo, (middle) JR, (bottom) Wyatt

One of the main things I took away from the weekend was learned in a conversation I had with Phillip. I had asked him what he’d learned at the Olympics and Boekelo, and he told me that when he watched Jung’s dressage, it was apparent he earned every point. His horses were so in front of his leg, it looked like he was doing nothing. The same was true on cross-country; Jung never needed to worry about where he was because his horse was always taking him. If you want to be good, you have to have your horse in front of your leg and on the aids in order for it to look easy. All of us in this country have to get better at this. Sinead and Allison made Burghley look easy in the dressage and on cross-country. Maybe the show jumping could have been a little better, but it was still good.

Wyatt was good in the dressage, but not good enough as far as making it look easy. I’ll get that this winter! Unfortunately, he stopped at 7b, the skinny at the water, and I retired. I felt there was no point in running around a 2-star with a stop. Better to go on to bigger things. My test on Syd at Fair Hill was good but not good enough. He was amazing on cross-country, maybe a little slow in the beginning, but I think I was worried about the trouble I’d had on my other horses. I was also a bit conservative with Syd because of his of a little lack of conditioning, but he came home full of run and will be better for it next year.

In hindsight, the expression that experience is something you get after you needed it applied to my Fair Hill with JR. The way JR was on the course was amazing, but took him almost eight minutes in to get it. Maybe I should have galloped him Friday night. He was so fresh in the warm-up I never really got him in front of my leg. If I’d just gone forward I would have solved most of my problems! Lucky for me, he has qualified for Kentucky and I know he’s up for it. Phillip said to me in the prize giving that I’m good in the show jumping but I need to practice cross-country more often. I’m going to try and be the cross-country queen this winter!

Summer Recap

I know I keep saying that I’ll get better at keeping everyone updated, but sometimes time gets away from me! I’ll try and catch you up on Surefire happenings over the summer.

The Surefire Horse Trials was a great success once again. We were so lucky to have both SmartPak and the Shipka Family sponsor the $10,000 J.C. Chester Intermediate Challenge. And congratulations to Surefire’s Meghan O’Donoghue, who won the class. We had great numbers for the weekend, good weather, and I think the best courses we’ve had yet for all levels. As always, I’m grateful to have so many dedicated people helping out— the volunteers, the whole Surefire gang and all the officials—it was a really fun weekend.

I went straight from our horse trials to coaching at the Young Rider Championships, which was held a week earlier this year because of the Olympics. I was really proud of my one-star team; all the riders were first timers and just a nice group. As always, I was also really proud of Surefire’s Kendyl Tracy, who was first after cross-country in the two-star but unfortunately pulled a rail in show jumping, which dropped her to fourth. Luckily, her mixed team of Areas VI, VII and IX still won the gold.

Right after Young Riders and Tom and I joined my whole family for two weeks in London to celebrate my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary and to watch as much of the Olympics as we could. Luckily for me, that included the eventing. Even though we couldn’t actually watch from the cross-country course, we were able to enter the Maritime Museum for free, where they had set up monitors to follow all the action. I was so inspired to watch so many great people ride. Not only was it incredible to see such great riders, but also all the amazing athletes in other sports. I watched Usain Bolt win the100m dash, Michael Phelps win the 200m butterfly and the individual and team gold medal gymnastics competitions among other things.

Tom and I were not really ready to come home from England, but we did and I headed to Richland with all three horses, Syd and Wyatt to run in the Advanced and JR in the 3-star. When I was in London I watched horse named Apollo, an eventer ridden by an Italian, which was so much like JR it was unreal. At Richland, I tried to emulate him in the dressage and finally bettered my typical score by six points for a 42. All three of my horses were great, really fun to do and I felt so lucky to have them all there at that level and sound to compete. It was also fun to have Meghan and Kendyl, who kept my horses going while I was gone, with their own horses in the Advanced that weekend.


Inmidair (JR) and Why Not (Wyatt) at Richland / photos courtesy of Eventing Nation

I came home from Richland and got a call from Allison Springer that she would love to have me at Burghley, so I hopped on plane on Wednesday and got inspired again. The Americans competed really well, especially Allison and Sinead. I can tell you that if you think Rolex is a big course, you haven’t seen anything until you watch Burghley—it’s a five-star event and a Burghley horse is something special.

There was a lot of press about how Allison and Sinead’s preparation at Maizey Manor contributed to their success at Burghley. As part of this, I thought Michael Pollard’s piece about team selection and team building was really well done. I think as a country we’re ready to rebuild, and we need to get behind David and be ready for a change for the better. Sometimes you have to look at things from different angles. We have a lot of talent in this country, and if we can get ourselves working together, our country can be on top again. We need a system that allows us to produce the best horses and riders we can, and also a system that produces a sense of teamwork among riders.

Back home in Virginia, I have my new horse Edmonton Affaire (Theo), who ran Training at Loch Moy and finished sixth on his dressage score. Next we’re off to Plantation with Syd, JR and Wyatt in the three-star, and then I’m planning to go to Fair Hill later this fall. Wish us luck!


My new ride Edmonton Affaire (Theo) / photo by GRC Photography

Rider4Helmets Video produced by NBC Washington

Check out this video profile of Jan and her recovery from a serious fall and stroke at http://www.riders4helmets.com/2012/08/back-in-the-saddle-jan-byyny.

Spring Events

Once again it’s been a long time since my last update. As you may know, my season hasn’t gone as planned, though two nice things did happen in May—Meghan O’Donoghue jumped around the CIC*** at Jersey really well, adding only time to her dressage score and getting herself closer to her goal of the CCI*** at Fair Hill. I was really pleased that I won both my divisions at the Virginia Horse Trials, an Intermediate on Why Not and the Advanced/Intermediate on J.R. It was the first time since last fall’s Fair Hill that I had run him. From there, he was sound enough to take to Bromont, which was my only possibility to try and get selected for the Olympics.

My plan was a little bit sink or swim, and as much as J.R. was a good boy over the Bromont course, as a rider I was not so good. He came off bank a little too fast and never saw the narrow after. I just circled and went right over it and he was great otherwise. But this made the Olympic decision quite easy, and helped me to think about making plans for the horse this fall. Lucky for me, J.R. came out of Bromont well. He’ll do another month of flatwork and I’ll get my mind around what the plan will be for the fall.

In the CCI**, Why Not was the best he’s been yet but of course, he won’t jump into the water if I miss as badly as I did. After he stopped, I just turned around and he dropped right in the second time. He was as awesome but wasn’t helped much by my ride; riding’s not always perfect!

It was so nice to have help and support at Bromont from Meghan, Kat and my Mom—it always makes a difference to have a great team of people with you. I got home to Virginia and a barn full of people—we have six girls right now gearing up for the event at Surefire. I’ll take the next few weeks to figure out my plans for the fall, Syd is back in work and so is Kemmerlin so I’ll figure out what makes the most sense for them as far as whether I stay here and do Fair Hill or maybe go to Boekelo. I’ll keep you posted and I’ll let you know how things go at our horse trials.

Southern Pines to Rolex

I know I should have done an update before now, but after Southern Pines and The Fork (not the best two weeks for me, I had falls at both), and Syd’s injury (which meant no Rolex), I let my situation get to me. Something that time always does for you, though, is give you more perspective. Things with horses aren’t that easy and sometimes it sucks when you or your horses get hurt or have disappointing results. It happens to everyone and I know that, but that didn’t make me feel any better. It just took some time and getting back out there to restore my motivation.

Moving forward from that, I decided to go to Fair Hill with Wyatt after it became apparent that Syd was out for Rolex (you can read about that on the Rolex website under the featured riders, http://www.rk3de.org). We had a run around Preliminary at Fair Hill to restore my confidence and his. Wyatt had tried so hard at the Fork but rider error caused him to land in the middle of the open oxer out of the sunken road. I took a tug, rode it too quietly and he thought it was a bounce; he did exactly what I told him to do. I just stepped off and he was fine, but that ended our weekend.

Fair Hill was just what we needed; something really easy for us and Wyatt just cruised around. It was a good event for my students as well—I’d been helping Jessica Hampf all winter and spring, and she too had had an unlucky fall at The Fork and was required to run around Fair Hill for her selectors in order to be allowed to go to Kentucky. Running the Advanced horse trials was good for her confidence, and for Meghan and Pirate as well—they had also had a fall at The Fork. Fair Hill was a good run for them, too.

Meanwhile, JR is coming along great. He did the test ride at Fair Hill for the CIC*** and scored a 48, and then tied for first in the Advanced dressage on a 32.2.

My plans are to do the OI with Wyatt at MCTA and then the CIC** at Jersey Fresh, with the goal of the CCI** at Bromont. JR will do the test ride for the CIC** at Jersey. He’s just started to jump and the end goal for him is the CIC*** at Bromont. I haven’t decided yet if I’m doing Chattahoochee or the Virginia horse trials before that.

I had a great weekend coaching Jess Hampf and Allison Springer at Rolex Kentucky. I was lucky to have been helping both of them this winter and spring. They were rock stars, and other than Jess’s dressage (her warm-up was good, she just didn’t get it in the ring), the weekend went really well for both girls. I’m so proud of them! As always, it was great watching and I feel like I’ve refreshed my love of the sport. Tom went too, so that was really fun. Anytime you get to see the best riders doing our sport you learn so much. I was so pleased that William won.

Rolex Featured Rider

Be sure and check out Jan's updates as one of this year's featured riders for the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.

Pine Top Advanced

Pine Top has come and gone. It was so great that my parents and Tom came, as well as Annika and Susan, so we had the whole Surefire support team for Meghan and myself for the season’s first Advanced.

Meghan had a great weekend on Pirate, even though she almost had a meltdown on dressage day. Sometimes you have to remember to put your boots on like everyone else and just go to work. She got so flustered she had two errors; I think that the impending pressure of going Advanced again may have got to her. But if you watched Meghan’s show jumping and cross-country, you would know how much she belongs at that level, even though she still has things to learn as we all do. I was like a proud parent when she finished, and I immediately texted her mother after cross-country to let he know it had gone well.

As far as my weekend went, Syd was amazing once again. Even though he was only 12th after dressage, I felt he had a really nice test. We had one time penalty in show jumping, maybe after first jump where I was a little unseated. He was great cross-country, even though we were held about 25 minutes after fence 9. We weren’t in the best rhythm afterward but all the same, the amazing Syd got it done. I didn’t run for time, and after the hold, I think my time may have got lost in the shuffle and we ended fifth.

Why Not was quite good in the dressage, though I would say I’ve had much better tests on him. I know I had too much warm-up beforehand. I had two seconds time in the show jumping with Wyatt—I must have had a slow day! He was actually amazing cross-country, even though the scoreboard didn’t reflect it. I made a mistake jumping onto the bank in last water that made it impossible for him to jump in, but once we got that sorted we finished well. It just reminded me that I always have to school in the water and really have him in front of my leg because he’s such a careful horse.

As far as how the other Surefire pairs did, there were some ups and downs. Vicky Jessop and Desert Mystery won the dressage in Preliminary Horse on a 29 and were double clear in the show jumping but unfortunately had run out cross-country at the corner. Po Tatham did her first Intermediate on a homebred of mine, Astaire to the Future, and was second after dressage, and had some rails show jumping but then was amazing cross-country with just time. Chase Shipka won Training Rider on Victory Shetan from the dressage on, which was their last Training until Spring Pine Top, where they’ll move up to Preliminary.

My heart goes out to Megan Moore, who lost her horse at Pine Top. She and Hopper had a great relationship and I’m so sad for her and for him. I know he had a great life with her.

I've also got to say it was great to have Jess Hampf back for lessons here in Aiken but my heart goes out to her as she had the bad luck to break her collarbone just as the season is getting started. Here'e hoping she heals quickly.

The next two weeks I’ll be doing some jumper shows and young horses out at Sporting Days as well as schooling shows, so stay tuned.

Aiken

I’ve been reading everyone’s blog updates on Eventing Nation, which made me feel like I’d done my own. Then I looked at my website and realized I haven’t written anything in a while. It’s quite a job to cover seven weeks in one post!

One of the best things about Aiken this year has been the incredible weather. So for me, making the decision to not go to Wellington in January not only saved a lot of money, but also meant I didn’t miss beautiful, warm weather. I did mange to go to Ocala for two days in the middle of the month to do some dressage with Silva Martin and show Syd and Wyatt. It was so cold there it was crazy, but the horses were really good. It was my first time out with Syd in two-and-a-half years, so that was nice.

At the end of January I was lucky enough to be on Boyd Martin’s “A” list and got the chance to ride with Bettina Hoy for three days with Wyatt and Syd. For those of you that haven’t seen Bettina in action I highly recommend it. I think she’s an exceptional teacher and very good at getting her point across. She knows just how much pressure to put on the people and the horses that she’s teaching. I did speak with one rider who thought she was maybe too German for his horses, but for me, she was helpful. For example, anyone can teach me on Why Not—he’s not always easy but he’ll try anything. Syd Kent is a different story—you have to make everything his idea because he would never tolerate someone telling him what to do. Bettina got that in the first few minutes of seeing him, which I think is pretty darn impressive.

The rest of my horses and Surefire crew arrived the first of February, including my Mom for two weeks, and boy, was she great help; it always makes me feel better when I compete if she’s there. Sporting Days in particular was really special for me because Syd did his first event in a long time and won from the dressage on. At this point we’ve gone to five horse trials and had winners at all of them except for Paradise Farm, where Cali (my working student) was second with Colonel Mustard in NR. I picked Paradise weekend to go home and see my boyfriend, Tom, and have a few days off.

It’s nice to have so many great horses, clients, owners and employees here—all the people that all make up the Surefire Eventing team. It’s been really fun to have Po Tatham here with her two horses as well as Victoria Jessop with her horses and clients sharing the barn. I even have two of Danielle Quinn’s jumpers and you might see me in March doing the Welcome Stakes on one of them that just started to do the smaller grand prixs. We also have Nancy Winter and her fox hunting ponies with us, which is always nice, and welcome back Susan Merle-Smith, who had to miss Aiken last year.

There’s a lot going on here with training sessions and some big events coming up. I’ll report on those soon!

2011 Annual Meeting

I went to this year’s annual meeting in Nashville and took care of my normal obligations as well as some new ones. The new ones were pretty cool as I met with the USOC team that was there to help our sport. The team included a nutritionist, fitness coach and sports psychologist. All the listed riders were also required to talk with Mark about our plans for the spring for our horses.

I had a fat pinch test and the fitness test started with planks, then as many squats as possible and then shuttle runs. I don’t know the results for my pinch test yet, but feel as though I’m pretty fit. The nutritionist gave me some helpful hints about how to better structure my diet as I tend to not eat much during the day and then eat a lot at night.

I really got a lot out of meeting with all three USOC folks, but particularly enjoyed speaking with the sports psychologist. Since my accident, I have a different way of seeing and feeling the jumps, and I wanted to talk with him about that. Because my stroke affected my ability to articulate my thoughts but not the thoughts themselves, I can no longer count strides in my head effectively. If you think about it, when we count in our heads, our brain is telling us how to articulate the numbers, even if we don’t say them out loud. My speech process no longer matches the speed of my thought process, so that I’m unable to count fast enough to match my horse’s striding—not because I can’t think it, but because I can’t “say” it fast enough in my head. I think the sports psychologist will be able to help me find ways to compensate for this, and also keep me in the right frame of mind to trust that the jump is going to be there and to feel it in the canter, rather than rely on a mechanical process like counting in my head. I found him to be easy to talk with and he had a good way of approaching the sport; he’s been to Burghley and Kentucky and he gets it. His main point for me was that the more I can let myself feel what I do, trust that feel and develop the ability to call on it, the better I’ll be. The same is true whether you’re a rider, a hockey player or a golfer—the goal is to not have to think about the mechanics of what we do.

I also attended Young Rider meetings; I still co-chair the committee with Tim Murray. It’s going to be really exciting this year because I feel like we have more Area Coordinators that have returned a lot of momentum to the program and who are trying to really get things done to make the program in all the areas and as a whole better.

I was also impressed with the Professional Horseman’s Council meeting this year. John Holling has really done a good job getting things done, like arranging for more cross-country jumps in warm up areas at events. I thought the PRO meeting was good, too, especially because they’re trying to get secondary health insurance for all members, which is huge. It was also interesting to hear featured guest speaker Clayton Fredericks talk about how he got into horses early on and how Team Fredericks operates today. Finally, I was really impressed with and very happy for Sharon White, who won the Becky Broussard grant this year.

I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays. We’re off to Aiken the second of January!

Training Lists!

This time of year is always nice for me because it gives me the chance to work on the details of my riding and the opportunity to teach some clinics, spend time with girls and more importantly, Tom. One of the things I’m most excited this year is that I have Why Not and Syd Kent back in full flat work. J.R. is also starting light flat after his break after Fair Hill, so the whole barn is in work and it’s fun to have the time to really enjoy all my horses.

A bonus is that I got selected for the training list with J.R.! I don’t have to be on a list to know how I feel about my horse and myself, but it always helps to have your thoughts confirmed. I am also incredibly thankful for the opportunities that being selected provides. I think the thing I’m most proud of, though, is that two of my current riders, Meghan O’Donoghue and Kendyl Tracy, as well as Mya Black (who rode with and worked for me a couple years ago and is listed with two horses) made the Developing Riders list. They are all awesome riders and I find it difficult to express how proud of them I am and how much it means to them and to me. I think being selected, and especially making the Developing Riders, does a lot to boost your thought processes, your need to be better, and your education. My text from Kendyl said it all—she’s normally not really emotional, just quiet and does her own thing—and I could tell she was thrilled and so proud to be named: “I don’t know if you’ve seen it or not, they just posted the developing riders list on EN. Both Meghan and I made it!!! Thank you so much for all your help.”

Meghan works for me full-time and Kendyl is in school at George Mason and will travel to training sessions. I’ll be doing the sessions in Aiken; I don’t have schedule yet but we’re required to be at the USEA annual meeting to meet with the USOC and have a fitness test done, which is required before you’re eligible for grant money. We’re also required to call Mark Phillips and tell him our plans for spring. Hopefully I’ll have JR and Syd at Rolex. I plan on going to both Pine Tops, Southern Pines, The Fork and then Kentucky. But as we know, best laid plans… so right after Thanksgiving I’m going to Hawaii with my family and Tom like we do every year and I’m going to enjoy that. I’ll write again after the annual meeting with more news. Happy Thanksgiving!

Fair Hill

I had a great week at Fair Hill. I have to say I feel I went into it as prepared as I could be. Even though I haven’t really competed that much at the upper levels for last two years, I had done three Advanced horse trials before and felt like everything I had been doing to get ready, especially for dressage, had been good and would hopefully pay off. I had a school with Silva on Monday, which was very helpful. J.R. wasn’t as relaxed as he could have been, but we worked mostly on the movements from the test and the overall picture of how he looks. He’s such a good mover but doesn’t always have the best ability to stay in one rhythm, so we worked on that. Sometimes J.R. gets so intense about doing the right thing, instead of looking effortless, he looks tense. We worked on the kind of seamless effortlessness in dressage that I wanted to have at Fair Hill in order to get the best possible score.

I jumped with Phillip on Tuesday and that was good. I would say that by far I was feeling the most rusty in show jumping, which is odd for me because it’s always been my strong suit, so it was good to get some more practice in. Meghan and I went over to the grounds and moved in on Tuesday. I knew I was going to go Friday, so Wednesday I did some long and low and tried to get J.R. loose and relaxed. After two days of lessons his back was a little sore— I think our horses might get pre-competition nerves like us, and maybe that’s why he felt a little tight.

Phillip had agreed to jog J.R. for me. I still have some lingering lack of feeling in my right hand from my accident, and with J.R. so fit and fresh, I felt better with Phillip handling him. On Wednesday I saw the course for first time. I loved it—big and pretty scopey, Derek did a fantastic job. I thought the Chesapeake Water, with the duck jump in the water followed by four strides out up the hill to a brush on top, one long stride to a really severely angled brush with only small window to jump, was by far the hardest with a lot to do. The whole course had great flow, though—first impressions always stick with you and I really liked the flow, and I knew, barring a silly mistake, it would be a great course for my horse. The only thing I didn’t know was how much rain we were going to get, it rained all Wednesday night, all Thursday and part of Friday morning.

On Thursday I had another lesson with Silva and J.R. was in really great form. We only worked for maybe 25 minutes then hacked around. I felt completely prepared for my test on Friday morning. On Friday I rode J.R. twice, once just a walk, trot and canter for about 20 minutes to take the edge off him and see how fresh he was. I was a bit surprised because he was fresher than he’s been—I think he thought it was cross-country day! When I got on for my test I knew he was in good frame of mind, I felt really ready, and Silva warmed me up for about 20 minutes. I was so pleased with my horse’s test! One half pass he was maybe trailing a little with his haunches, and I missed my first change in the canter and he was maybe a little tight for the second, but he was really fun to ride and I don’t often say that about dressage! It was definitely one of the best tests he’s ever done and I was thrilled with him.

On Saturday morning, I decided to walk around and see how footing was holding. I really concentrated and where footing was best and how to get to it to keep him on good footing as much as possible. I went about half way through the three-star division so I knew that good footing would be hard to find. When I got on J.R. he was a pretty relaxed but really focused, he knew what was coming. I’d say it was the best ride I’ve had with him yet, though they’re all pretty good. Before I went, Phillip was great and talked with me about how these big events don’t some up often, that I needed to think about time, ride one fence at a time, and just go out and do my stuff. I feel like J.R. and I did just that, we went out and did our stuff. The footing was sticky, which didn’t make it easy, but these competitions are hard and you have to fight for everything you get. With that being said, I feel as though I was really efficient about my gallop, except for last two jumps not being out of rhythm. I changed to those because I didn’t want to make a mistake at the end, but everything else just flowed and whole course felt easy for him. Sometimes J.R. tries too hard in the air so I had to keep him going on the back side of the jump. I don’t want him to think it’s too hard, so I just encourage him forward after. You can also leave a lot of time after the jump if you don’t gallop away.


Photos by Josh Walker

J.R. pulled up great and had a nice night thanks to great care from Meghan. Being in the lead after cross-country at a big three-star is so satisfying and even though I nervous on Sunday morning, it was so nice to feel like I did my job and was in a position to win the whole thing—that’s why we do this. Along with enjoying the sport and the horses, we also want to be good enough to win. Even though my butterflies were flying around a little crazy, I was really excited for the show jumping on Sunday morning. I tried not to focus on how close we top three were and just focus on my plan and my warm-up and how I wanted to ride the course, which I really liked when I walked it. And then it was time to warm up. It’s amazing that when you get on your horse you can feel the butterflies fly into formation; that helps you so much with your focus.

Overall my horse warmed up well and Phillip was kind enough to help me. I felt really good about my plan when I went into ring. I had a great first jump, but on the way to second fence I cut the bend and never put J.R.’s eye on the jump, plus even though we arrived on a little bit of a longer distance, I trusted he would jump it. Horses will jump what they can see, but J.R. never put his eye on it so he didn’t think he had to jump. Big, big mistake! And everyone was there to see it. I was actually lucky I didn’t fall off and he didn’t fall down.

From that point on you’re in survival mode and just try to minimize the damage and have the best result you can. I did have one more jump down that I think was a little bit of an unlucky rail behind. Overall the course was not smooth at all. But I still finished in third and looking back on it, I know I’ll be better next time. I feel that not having had a lot practice over big courses since I’ve been back might have been a factor. I went to two jumper shows then did three Advanced horse trials with J.R., which is probably not enough practice to have the kind of results you want to have. This was one point in time for me and I know I’ll be better next time. As we know with horses, it could have gone the other way; I could have jumped from the gap and had a different result.

I’m so thankful for my horse, first of all—he’s a great horse and great jumper—and second, for all the people who have supported me through everything: my parents, my boyfriend Tom, the girls in barn and all my kind friends. It was an added bonus to win the Sportsmanship award. It was so sweet of both Boyd and Becky to say at the press tent that they were both rooting for me to win. I have to say that I’m really looking forward to next year with J.R., Syd Kent and Why Not. I would love to have a good run to the Olympics, which has been a life-long dream and goal of mine.

Back home, J.R. gets a month off, which he’s so excited about because he loves to be in his field. I’m back at work teaching and traveling to do a clinic this weekend. I’ll keep you posted on fall and winter plans!

Fall

I’m happy to be here at Fairhill! But first, a little recap of the past few weeks. Between Plantation and now, we went to Middleburg, Morven and Maryland Horse Trials. At Middleburg, I rode Victory Shetan (Toddy) to get some miles on him for his owner, Chase Shipka. He was really good in dressage, brave show jumping, great cross-country and ended fifth in Open Training. Chase did her first event on the east coast and she won the Junior Novice Division with Loreal.

Then we went on to Morven, where I planned to do a combined test with J.R. and run the whole event with Kem and Toddy. With all the rain, it was a pitiful weekend! J.R. had a very good dressage, the rider had a couple of mental errors, but he still scored well. We had one down in show jumping and overall I was very pleased. Usually, J.R.’s very spooky at liverpools but he wasn’t at Morven, so he didn’t jump up like he normally does and had the rail down. Kem was good in the dressage, fairly good in show jumping—with the same fence down, another rider error. One error was long and one was deep, so at least it wasn’t the same mistake twice! I think the footing was so wet and it was raining and blowing so hard, that Kem was having a hard time seeing, too. The weather was so erratic during show jumping, and cross-country was even wetter and windier, I just tried to support him. Kem was great at all the jumps but it wasn’t much fun. Toddy was great on the flat, won the dressage, and even though it was windy and rainy he jumped beautifully in the ring. After cross-country on Kem, though, I decided not to run Toddy cross-country because he’s so careful—there’s always another day.

The highlight of the weekend for me was that Meghan did her first Advanced on Pirate. They had a decent dressage, a beautiful show jump, and she and her horse made cross-country look easy even though the going was so bad. They finished sixth. Meghan also rode Globetrotter for Darcie Shipka in the Novice and was sixth in that division, too. Chase had Loreal in the Junior Novice and was second. We were all glad to have the weekend over! It was still raining on Monday but the rest of the week was beautiful and sunny and everything is green.

The following weekend we went to Maryland and I did Kem and Toddy. Kem was his best yet in dressage and tied for fourth on a 28.6. We had one down in show jumping and a just a little time cross-country to finish third. I was actually really pleased with him and think he’s ready to move up. If I don’t sell him, I think he’ll do the 2-star at Jersey in the spring. Toddy was not great in dressage but it wasn’t his fault. The event was running so far behind, almost 25 minutes late, that I think he was overdone by the time we went. He was awesome for show jumping and cross-country, though, and finished fourth. It was really fun because Katie Bleyer rode my old partner, Waterfront, in the same division and finished right in front of me. She’s leasing him and works for me. Then Chase did her first Training with Loreal. She did have stop in show jumping but everything else was awesome, especially her cross-country. Meghan rode both Globetrotter and her horse, No Nonsense. It was Globetrotter’s first Novice and No Nonsense’s second and they finished first and second. Katie did Gamble a Bit—his jumping phases were great but his dressage ring was running late, too, and I think he suffered from too much warm up as well.

This weekend we’re at Fair Hill. I had a good jump with Phillip on the way up and am really excited about the weekend and looking forward to seeing my parents and riding my horse. It will be really fun to do a CCI 3-star again! After this, the season winds down and we’re all ready for the fall and some down time and working with the young horses.

J.R.'s stall at Fairhill-Thank you Surefire Eventing sponsors!

Richland and Plantation

I’ve now done two three-stars with Inmidair (J.R.). Richland was really great, and even though our dressage wasn’t perfect we still scored well. I felt like when I got there the course was bigger than I was expecting because even though J.R. is really brave with a big step, I just haven’t ridden him much over bigger courses and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know how green he would be and what his reactions to the different fences would be. If he was too careful at the water, how he would handle the coffin, that kind of thing. What I found out was, as I went I could trust him more and more, wait longer to set him up, and pretty much as long as he was balanced and in front of my leg, he was really brave about whatever I wanted him to do. Even though I knew it, he reminded me what a great cross-country horse he is. The more I got into the course the faster I could go. I think the only thing I was disappointed in from the weekend was my show jumping. I didn’t have enough energy at the first jump, a triple bar. J.R. was so spooky and careful and tried so hard he had the back rail, and even though he jumped clear the rest of the course, it was not a thing of beauty. He has such an interesting style anyway, not classic at all because he’s weird about his mouth and jumps with his head in the air. He starts to jump even higher and is hard to stay with him in the air.

After Richland, I decided to do a dressage show at Morven, which was really insightful. I realized as I get through the test J.R. almost tries too hard in the canter, which hard for him anyway. I have to keep him really easy-going through the test so that he doesn’t get too hot. I also I think he’s a little bit like me—trying harder doesn’t always mean a better result—sometimes you have to relax and just let it happen.

The dressage show was good practice for me before Plantation. Being able to do another three-star three weeks after Richland was a also good thing because it put me back on the spot as far as being competitive. At Plantation, J.R. was pretty good in his trot work but not easy-going enough in his canter work. The new ring they built is beautiful but a lot of atmosphere, so it’s good to know what he’s going to be like at Fairhill. He scored okay in the dressage and tied for fourth. The most frustrating thing about dressage is you know how good your horse can be but you never really seem to be satisfied with your performance! J.R. was awesome on cross-country. The course was a little inconsistent in the feel of it, but as far as handling it, he never felt inconsistent at all. I felt like he read all the questions well, and Phillip had told me not to go for time so I was slower than I’d like but still in a good rhythm. For the show jumping, I finally had the clear round that my horse is capable of. It gets so frustrating sometimes when you know you have a horse that should jump clean but you don’t because of your riding, not making big mistakes but little ones that cost a rail. I ended up seventh and was really proud of both J.R. and myself.

The rest of the weekend was great. Kemmerlin did his fourth Preliminary and he did have a rail down but other than that was incredible—and was a really hard track, especially for a green horse! As far as the other Surefire riders go, even though Kailyn Dines had a disappointing dressage, she had two great jumping phases and finished fourth in YR Preliminary. The Tracey girls each did their first Advanced and Anisa also rode Waterfront as practice horse in Preliminary to warm herself up for the Advanced cross-country on Tigger. Anisa hasn’t been out much this year so I thought having a run on another horse would help he and it did. Both girls were awesome. Kendyl did have some rails in the show jumping but I swear that horse will jump clean for her, she just needs to work out the kinks and keep believing it’s possible. I also helped Helen Hayn do her first two-star and she was 12th, and Kristen Bachman also did her first two-star on her young horse, Lucky Little Spy, and she was 7th. Meaghan came and helped all weekend and has been my right arm lately and hopefully she’ll be back out soon with Pirate if she gets into Morven. He got kicked in the field a month ago and we wanted to be conservative with him, just to be sure he didn’t have any damage. I’ve been so thankful to have her along at the competitions and to have Katie Bleyer manning the fort at home.

I’ve decided to not do Pau but instead aim J.R. for Fairhill. Phillip thought going to France wasn’t the best decision financially as my horse and I haven’t had enough time out together. So as long as everything stays on track, Fairhill here I come!

Summer

Things are always a bit crazy in the summer at Surefire, and we’ve been very busy since the last update. The Surefire Horse Trials were great this year, and we were blessed with good weather, better footing, and things ran, I think, the best they ever have. The Chips Chester Challenge was a success and fun for everyone, though I wish we’d had more horses in that division. Sara Kozumplik won on Manolo Blahnik and was also 6th on Tatton Winter. Lucky for us at Surefire, Megan was second on Pirate and came home with a good paycheck! The riders told me they loved the prize money, which made the class really exciting, and they also liked that it all ran on Friday. We were lucky to have both of Chips’s sons, Charlie and John, help out with prize money in their father’s honor.

As always, I’m so lucky to have such great help from the girls in barn who are so essential to preparing for and running our event. Also, I couldn’t do it without the people who help me out every year: Christy, Miguel, Nanky, my parents, Po, Mary, and of course, all the volunteers that sign on and do such a fantastic job.

After the horse trials I was lucky to go to Ireland for the week and have a little fun. I got back on the Friday right before Maryland where I ran both Palmer and Kem in the training, Palmer was 5th and Kem 3rd in their divisions. It was the best Palmer has galloped yet, and Kem has become a machine cross-country.

The following Wednesday, the whole barn went to the horse show at Culpepper. Kendyl and Ashlyn Dorsey were practicing for Young Riders, and Hannah Krueger went, too. I practiced on my three—J.R., Kem and Palmer—and Meghan was there with Pirate. I was lucky enough that I had five clean rounds and one with one rail. It was great practice for everyone and a good way to get ready for the second horse trials at Maryland. I’ve also continued to ride once a week or so with Linda Zang, who’s helped me a lot. It’s always a good idea to have someone keeping an eye on you and the development of your horse on the flat. Linda was great help before the event and J.R. won the dressage with a 25.6. I was really happy, though I think I could have ridden the halt and my simple changes better, but the rest of our test was really good. It feels as though his canter is getting better and better and he’s more relaxed than he has been, though as you know with horses, that comes and goes! J.R. ended up winning his division of Intermediate with just some time cross-country.

Both Meghan was second in OIA and Kendyl third in OIC. Palmer was second in his training division and was just awesome, even better than the weekend before. He’ll have a good gallop in time, it just takes a while to develop when the horses come off the track as he did. As far as the others go, my Colorado Young Riders Kalyn Dines and Ashlyn Dorsey had a good weekend, though Ashlyn turned the wrong way in show jumping and crossed her tracks so got a stop and time.

I moved Kemmerlin up to Preliminary at Maryland and he was greener than I thought he would be cross-country. I didn’t give him the best presentation at the water or the rolltop and so my result was disappointing. But, I know he’ll get it. Meghan also took her young horse, Cedric, for his first Novice and he ended up second. Kendyl had her old Young Rider horse, Mr. Incredible, there also and he won at Novice, and Anisa was fifth on Tigger in OPB.

We had a good week practicing for Young Riders with the some of the Area IX team at the farm and then headed to Kentucky for the championships. As always, Young Riders was filled with ups and downs. There’s so much pressure on the kids, and I think my kids did such a nice job. Unfortunately, we ended up without a one-star team because Ellie Gilbertson’s horse was lame at the first jog. One-star junior rider Madeline Backus joined us from Colorado and had a great competition with a good dressage, great cross-country and a couple rails in show jumping for individual 9th. Our other one-star rider, Ashlyn Dorsey, had good competition with her best dressage test yet and a double-clear cross-country, but unfortunately suffered from show jump nerves in the end and finished 13th.

In the two-star championships, Kendyl had a great dressage and cross-country but with two down on the show jumping she moved from bronze medal position to 8th. In combination with Area V, Kendyl still got silver medal in the team competition. I know that Kendyl was really mad when she came out of the ring, she wanted it badly and wasn’t okay with 8th. But that is the start of how to really get good—you have to want it that badly.

Overall, I thought the course and the whole event was a good competition. I thought the level of riding at the 2-star was better than ever, but thought that generally, the one-star kids were weak. I think a lot of the riders don’t get enough practice in the saddle or enough exposure to other disciplines. Being a jack-of-all-trades in eventing makes it really hard for the kids to get good. I think it would help our young riders to do more cross-discipline riding. It’s so easy to get in the habit of not trying other things like jumper and dressage shows, but going to them is great practice. I also wish more kids could learn on experienced horses and get miles; I saw too many trying to learn and teach a horse at the same time.

We got home from Young Riders, I jumped my horses and then we went up to Millbrook with Palmer, Kem and J.R. plus Anisa and a whole crew from Surefire. Both Po Tatham and Vicky Jessop joined us, shared in the cost of driving, got some help and had a big weekend away. I think overall was a good weekend, though poor Vicky did have a fall in the water and pulled muscles in her neck and separated her shoulder. She and her horse will return for another day. It was so nice to have Anisa and Tigger back for the first time competing since he did his tendon last year at Young Riders.

As far as I go Palmer was a little unsettled cross-country—I think running at 470 and some of the longer distances were a little hard on him. It turns out that when I got home, I found he had hurt his leg. Kem was great, not the best dressage but he will be the dressage winner soon. He was so good cross-country; he’s such a fast horse to ride! We had two down in the show jumping but that’s was just being green. I was really happy with the way he’s coming along. J.R. was great, too, though not best dressage of my life but fantastic cross-country and one rail down at first fence in show jumping because his rider missed badly. Then I started riding and he was his usual spectacular self. I was so happy to be back J.R because he’s such a fun horse to ride.

After Millbrook, I took my horses to two dressage shows and a jumper show and I think they’re all getting better and better and more and more together. As I’m writing this I’m in the airport on my way to Richland, wish me good luck!

Competitions, Preparations and a Fundraiser

We have been working hard this week and for the last two weeks getting ready for our event. I think the girls and I feel slightly crazed, and know there are some things we can’t control, like the weather and how it all is going to go. I think the footing is going to be better than ever this year; we’ve really worked on it. The forecast sounds like it’s going to start to cool off on Friday and that will really help. I’m disappointed we only have 34 horses in the $10,000 Intermediate class and I think most would have entered regardless of the money. Maybe it’s a hard time for people to justify a destination event, even with prize money. The timing, only two weeks after Bromont instead of three, may be a factor as well.

I also want to say how badly I feel for Boyd, Phillip, Ryan, Lillian and Caitlin and all the owners of the horses that were lost in the fire. I can’t imagine any of that happening. We’re so lucky we didn’t lose any people. Jacqueline Mars and David and Karen O’Connor are putting on a fundraiser for Boyd’s crew on Saturday nig. It will be $100 at the door to get in and then there’ll be a silent auction and everything raised will go to help them replace what they lost. It can be hard to know what to do and we can feel so helpless, but the whole eventing community is behind them, just as they would support any of us. I have to say that is why I event, because the people in this sport are so kind and will always be there for you when you’re down.

My horses have been going really well. I took my two young ones, Kemmerlin and Palmer, to Waredaca. They were good, even though Palmer hadn’t been out for a while. They both won the dressage, were both green in the show jumping and added just time on cross-country. Unfortunately, the footing was like concrete. I felt bad, especially for Palmer, who had bruised his foot earlier and wasn’t a happy camper. Between the footing, his greenness and not having competed much, I just went slowly.

Meghan rode Charlie, this time not for me but for his new owner. He did his best dressage yet with a 30.5. Unfortunately, they had a rail in show jumping but then a great cross-country. I told Meghan to go whatever pace she was happy with and they had a little time as well.

The next week we went up to Silva’s to get some dressage help. It was really nice to see her ride JR; she always rides your horse before she teaches you. JR’s either lazy or too animated; he gets almost spastic with his front legs. It’s really hard to get him forward without him getting too big, and then he loses his rhythm. Silva had me work on keeping it forward but easy, riding him into the corners, keeping the same pace and riding him from leg to hand, around and around. I made some plans leave JR with her while I’m gone for Young Riders, and to get some dressage shows on my calendar so I can have some practice for the girls and myself.

Then we jumped with Phillip; I hadn’t seen him for almost a month. I like to have the pressure put on me by Phillip to make sure I’m completing the exercises well. He had me jump oxer to oxer in a big four strides, then in five and six. We worked on making sure I could bend out to make the strides work, always improving the canter and always making sure you I could angle jumps as well as ride a line of skinnies. I think a key point of the way both of us teach is that you have to practice all these things every time you jump.

I’ve also been riding with Linda Zang almost every week at Sharon White’s. On Friday, I went through the Intermediate test with JR. It wasn’t the greatest but we worked on the same things as with Silva, keeping him regular and easy. I did lot of coming down the center and quarter lines in a straight line, keeping him with me and on both reins and making sure he was listening to me and staying in the same rhythm.

We went to Seneca after all the practice. JR was good in the dressage; the work paid off and we were second in that phase. He did break in the medium canter when he got spooked, but maybe if I had had him better connected when I started the canter he wouldn’t have broken! Otherwise, the test was really nice. Show jumping and cross-country were awesome. I forgot how nice he is to compete, I just have to make sure I don’t get jumped off. That’s not the worst problem to have, but sometimes it’s really hard to hold on to him!

Both of the young horses were really good. Kemmerlin always shows up for work and was third after dressage, had a kind of unlucky rail in show jumping and was great cross-country. Palmer got a little bit tight in the dressage with cross-country going on, had a green rail as well as an unlucky rail in show jumping—he was really lucky at the second fence, not so much at the seventh. Kem finished fourth and Palmer fifth. I just have to say that I think Seneca did a beautiful job with the footing, the courses and their whole event this year.

My parents arrive today and I can’t wait to see them. They always come and help out at our event. Wish me luck for this week—it’ll be crazy! I’ll let you know how it all goes.

Spring Events

A lot has happened since Morven, a lot of ups and downs. The Fork, at the beginning of April, was great competition for Wyatt and me, the best yet. We went with Meghan and her horse, Pirate. Wyatt’s dressage was okay, nothing special, but he was really great cross-country and I felt the most in sync yet with him. And after having had some rider errors in the show jumping at Southern Pines, it was nice to have a really beautiful round with him in that phase, too. Meghan had a good event as well, with a pretty nice dressage and cross-country, and for the second time this year, she won her division with a beautiful stadium round. Jim and Bernadette Cogdell did a fantastic job with the event and always put on a great show.

I decided to take Wyatt Advanced at Fair Hill, I thought it was a good thing to do before I took him to the two-star at Jersey. I was nervous about going Advanced, not scared, just the nerves anyone would have after so long away from the level. I was just hoping that my timing was still available to me! In keeping with the way this wet spring has been, there was a lot of rain at the event, including on cross-country day. The footing was deep and pretty wet, but I decided to run anyway. Wyatt was unbelievable in all three phases. Even with an error we were sixth after dressage, so I was really happy with him. In spite of the weather on cross-country day I felt really good, and it was such a relief to know that I still have it in me, even if we weren’t the fastest around the course it was fun to do. I was lucky because Tom came up to watch and support me. I think he was more nervous for me that I was, but after seeing Wyatt jump he said, “Jan, he’s the best one yet, a really good horse. I’m not scared for you at all!” With just the time on cross-country, we ended up seventh—not bad for my first Advanced in over a year.

Kendyl also had a good weekend at Fair Hill in the two-star with her mare, Ever So Lucky, and finished ninth with some time cross-country and one rail in stadium. Both Kendyl and Helen are headed in the right direction for Young Riders this summer, and the great thing is now Kendyl’s qualified. Helen had twenty penalties on cross-country only because her mare didn’t see the out from the water, but nevertheless I feel like Helen has made great strides since she’s been with me. Unfortunately, it meant she didn’t qualify to do the CCI at Jersey, so we moved her down to the CIC for that event.

My two young horses, Palm Crescent and Kemmerlin both did the Training, the first at that level for both of them. They were great, but I went slowly on cross-country because of the footing.

The bummer is that when I got home the Tuesday after Fair Hill, it was obvious Wyatt had damaged a tendon. It was an acute injury, not something that had been brewing for a while, and he’s out for the time being.

On the Wednesday after Fair Hill I flew to Kentucky to help Jessica Hampf and Kristen Bachman at Rolex. Kentucky was also plagued with all the rain we’ve had this spring and I’ve never seen the Horse Park that wet, with running water through the infield and the sunken road. It was a great weekend for Jess; she had a good dressage and even though she had 20 cross-country, it was the best I’ve seen her ride yet. In show jumping, she had just too little pace and didn’t realize it when she went in, but I’m still so proud of her and all the improvements she’s made. Kristen decided withdraw before cross-country as it was her horse’s first time back at that level. She felt running him on the footing wasn’t in his best interest, which is not an easy decision to make when you’ve put in so much work and time into getting to Kentucky. But, there’s always another day.

One of the best things about Kentucky was that I got to watch a lot of dressage and cross-country—you have to learn something when you watch that many great riders and horses. I think what I learned the most is that Mary King is amazing—she has the best attitude and always has a smile on her face; you can tell she just loves what she does. She’s such a class act and puts a positive spin on everything that happens. I love her expression when things go wrong, “better luck next time”, and her attitude toward competing, “ I’m going to enjoy the moment.” I think that’s one of the things that make her such a great competitor; as she says, “I don’t do pressure, I don’t like it.”

After Rolex, I had to get Inmidair (JR) ready for his first competition after time off. I took him Preliminary at MCTA and had so much fun. He was great in the dressage and show jumping, and slow on cross-country, but it was so exciting to be back on him again. I also rode Kemmerlin in the Training and he ended up fifth, and Meghan took BT Ten Mile (Charly) Training, too. I couldn’t take Palmer because he’d pulled his shoe the day before and was really lame from it.

Both Helen and Meghan left the following Tuesday to go to Jersey Fresh. I was grumpy because I didn’t have a horse there so I told the girls I was feeling sorry for myself but that I would get over it. I was really excited for both of them, though. Meghan had a great warm-up for her test and then got in the ring and pushed Pirate a little bit past his rhythm. I was proud of her, though, because the work she did in the warm up is what we’ve been aiming toward all spring. The fact that she could take everything we’ve talked about and get it in the warm-up is progress. There’s such a fine line between doing enough and doing too much! Meghan’s cross-country was awesome, she had about five time-faults because I think she was worried about how Pirate would handle the nine-minute course as she could see a lot of horses were finishing tired. I knew we had the horse fit enough and he finished really strong, I think he was one of the fittest there and they were fun to watch. She had a beautiful show jumping and finished 13th. It was nice to finally have the two-star on her resume—she’s tried for the last one-and-a-half years to get it done!

Helen, on the other hand, barely got a qualifying score in dressage—it’s definitely a work in progress. Her mare, KC, looked awesome cross-country, the best I’ve seen her go and Helen ride, until three jumps from home when Helen’s stirrup leather broke and KC stopped at the next jump. They just weren’t on the same page with the broken stirrup. I think because Helen had never had a stop with KC in that way, she thought it better to pull up and play another day. It’s a good reminder for everyone to always check your tack.

Kendyl and I decided to drive down to Virginia to compete JR and Ever So Lucky (Megan). It was nice for just the two of us to go and help each other out. Dressage with JR was okay, but after all the work I’ve been doing I was expecting it to be better than it was—I guess that’s horses. My show jumping was clean though not the smoothest round I’ve ever had, I think mostly because I didn’t have quite enough pace and underestimated how much the indoor ring would hold him. I think you always need a little more pace and jump in the canter when riding indoors and my guess is that’s why there were so few clean rounds. Cross-country was great, he’s such a pleasure to ride. JR’s funny horse, he definitely has his own way of going with his head and neck, and the way he jumps is quite unique in that you don’t feel like you ever get the same jump twice. But he jumped great and was pretty fast with only two time faults, so we moved form 15th to third.

Kendyl had good weekend as well, with a better dressage test than mine, but she can still get more points out of it. Show jumping has been her nemesis but was actually pretty good, though she did have two down and four time and I feel both rails were because of her lack of release. I had told her to run for time cross-country just to practice for Young Riders and she was easily inside. She was amazed how much easier her mare goes and how much easier she was to ride when she has to kick. She ended up 11th, but only because of her show jumping. I think she’ll wait and run Megan at Surefire and then Maryland just before Young Riders, which is in Kentucky at the end July.

Life has been bustling at the farm. We’re busy getting ready for our event, plus we have all Melinda and Larry’s Hanovarian babies back in which is really fun. We have six of them, five of which we broke last fall: three, three-year-olds, two, two-year-olds and a yearling. If you want a nice horse, I’m telling you these are some of the best young horses I’ve never worked with in my life and I’ve done a lot of babies.

The babies out for hack.

I vow to do updates more often, so stay tuned for the next segment!

Southern Pines II and Morven

We’re home! We came back on Thursday to really cold weather in Virginia but at the same time it’s so nice to be home. I’m thankful to Kendyl for driving one rig home and to Meghan for making the trip twice so that I could stay in Aiken and ride with Katie Prudent for two days.

I felt like I needed to work with Katie as my show jumping at Southern Pines was not the best. I usually feel really comfortable with that phase, but instead I had one rail and one whole jump down. I didn’t hold my position over the liverpool— I looked down and lost count of where I was in the line. Poor Wyatt, he was trying to listen to me but I think I just confused him! Katie is a real stickler for flat work so the beginning of my lessons were filled with exercises to make sure I was able to shorten and lengthen Wyatt’s stride and move him off my leg. In both lessons we had to do trot leg yield to canter, then leg yield in the canter for the flying change. In the second lesson, we held the counter canter and did a simple change through the trot so that our horses were always waiting for us to tell them what to do. On the first day’s jumping, we did a simple four-stride line followed by a wide five and a wide six or a more direct four or five. The object was to have the ability to do both easily, whether in the beginning of course or at the end. The second day we were plagued by bad weather, but were lucky to get permission to use Peter Barry’s covered ring. We worked on trot gymnastics; a placement rail to a vertical, 18 feet to an oxer, 21 feet to another oxer, and then the reverse, so that so that the distance went from long to short. This exercise was especially good for Wyatt, confirming his ability to trot in slow and still be in front of my leg, jump out over the oxer and then come back still in front of leg as the distances were decreased. Riding with Katie was a great review for me and was incredibly helpful. Plus, it was really nice to see her and have some time to meet with her in the evening.

So back to Southern Pines and my Intermediate move-up. In spite of the show jumping, Wyatt was great in the dressage and felt I did the best yet on cross-country since my accident. It felt so good to jump around Intermediate again! I was really proud of both Meghan and Kendyl, too. Meghan ended up winning and Kendyl was second in a really tough Intermediate division. Both girls should be so proud of themselves—they can really ride, have great horses and they’ve worked really hard.

We drove back to Virginia on Thursday so we could get ready for Helen to do the Intermediate at Morven. I planned to do a combined test with Wyatt plus take my young horses, Palm Crescent and Kemmerlin. I got them in thanks to the great secretary at Morven, Shannon Pedlar. The nice thing about Morven is that Helen qualified to do a two-star so she’s still on track to try and get to Young Riders this summer. Fingers crossed! She had the best event yet at the Intermediate level and I’m really proud of all the changes she’s been able to make with her riding—Fairhill two-star, here she comes!

My horse were all good at Morven. Wyatt was fine in the dressage though I’m ready for it to be better. I feel like I keep getting the same score, but he feels so good, I think he should score higher. I’m not saying the judges should score me better, but that I need to figure out how to get more sevens, eights and nines and not so many sixes. The show jumping was much improved and that was my whole purpose for going. It was nice to get in the ring and have a fluid round.

Kemmerlin, poor thing, was plagued by bad weather at Morven like so many horses were that weekend. I think I was on and off him about six times, and he went down the center line with rain pelting him in the face. With that being said, he was pretty nice to ride in all three phases, apart from a little mis-communication at the third fence on cross-country when I wanted to wait and he wanted to go. He waited with one leg and then went ahead and hurled himself over the jump, landing on his knees with the reins over his head and caught by just one ear. We did bolt across the field in the wrong direction for about 200 yards, but luckily I got my reins back, pulled up and turned back onto the course. After that, he was so much smarter and more pleasant to ride, though I think I used another of my nine lives!

Palm Crescent was a pleasure to ride, and we had nicer weather on Sunday, though he was pretty spooky in the indoor for dressage. I don’t know that he had ever been in one. After that he was perfect in show jumping and on cross-country.

I had the day off on Monday but ended up teaching some lessons, going over stuff for our horse trials, getting unpacked from the winter in Aiken, and planning a new course to be built in the ring… plus got everything packed and ready to go down to the Fork. Both Meghan and I are going and Kendyl is staying home to concentrate on school and ride the horses here. Anisa is coming up from school because both JR and Anisa’s horse, Tigger, are back in flat work—how exciting is that? Wish us luck and I’ll tell you all about the event when we get home.

Pine Top Advanced, Sporting Days and Southern Pines I

Everything always happens quickly at this point in Aiken! I decided to do an Intermediate combined test at Pinetop Advanced since the girls were running the whole event and I wasn’t ready to do the Intermediate cross-country yet. I felt it would be better, since I got hurt at Pinetop a year ago, to not put too much stress on myself. Sometimes your emotions get the best of you and I didn’t want to be in that place. I wanted to get a couple more Prelims under my belt to get my eye back at the gallop. Wyatt was great in the dressage, though I didn’t really have enough time to warm up. It was cold but I wasn’t expecting him to be that fresh! Still, he was his typical rhythmical self and the Intermediate test gave him a little more to do. He was fourth after dressage and great in the show jumping.

Meghan and Pirate had a good test for them, another personal best, and their dressage is improving by leaps and bounds. They were good in the show jumping and cross-country, too. Kendyl and Megan (Ever So Lucky) had an okay dressage, she suffered from a fresh horse as well, but went on to better show jumping and cross-country. Helen and KC’s dressage is definitely a work in progress, so is show jumping, but they were double clear cross-country, which was great. The rest is going to just take time.

After Pine Top, I asked Mark Phillips if I could have a lesson on the flat before I went to Sporting Days because I felt I needed to re-confirm my half-halt. It felt like I haven’t really had enough time to get to Sylva’s and Mark was kind enough to teach me. He watched Wyatt go for a bit and then got on him. Mark just told me to really keep Wyatt over his neck, and to remember there’s only one answer when I put my leg on: he has to move his hind legs to the bit. It’s amazing how well Mark rides and how much feeling he has. You could see as he went that Wyatt got better and better and happier and happier. When I got back on him we did a little re-confirming of the half-halt, then shoulder-in, counter-canter, half-pass and lead changes and all of them were great. It was really fun to have Mark’s help again.

So on to Sporting Days. Wyatt was really good until we got to the water on cross-country and had a stop. I was so mad—even though I may not have ridden the best, I still felt he should have gone. I know I need to do my homework now because that water had been a problem before. Bebe was good all day with just one rail in show jumping. Allie won the dressage on a 20.4 and also had one rail down in show jumping. Both young horses were really good cross-country. I’m excited for Ashley Worrell, who has bought both Allie and Bebe. She wanted me to do Sporting Days and Southern Pines with them before sending them on to her in Colorado.

Charlie (BT Ten Mile) moved up to Training at Sporting Days with Meghan and had a better dressage test, though it’s hard to relate because the test is harder than Novice, and his cross-country and show jumping were good. Mark my words, Charlie’s going to be the dressage winner in the next few months. He’s a really nice horse, such a good mover and a great brain. Courtney Carson and Sunny had some trouble in both the cross-country and show jumping, but it was better than their last event at Paradise. Ashlyn Dorsey ran Culcairn 14 in JOT for his first event and was second, and JYOP with Cosmic Girl, finishing ninth.

After Sporting Days I took Wyatt to have a jump school with Phillip. I also wanted to have him watch me into the water. Wyatt was great for the school, but when we went practice the water, I got him in the first time but it took everything I had to make it happen. He was really naughty! Phillip said he was so glad we did this, hopped on Wyatt and told him, very politely, to never stop with me again!

I decided to take my horses to Southern Pines I because I really love that facility and the cross-country—the whole event is so well done. Also wanted another run in Preliminary with Wyatt, and a more difficult water. I also took Allie and Bebe for new owner, Ashley, plus I brought a horse I’d just bought from Patricia Vos and Jen Simmons. His name is Palm Crescent and they’d bought him through the Canter program. Jen had him entered at Southern Pines anyway, and even though I only had about five days with him, I decided to take him along and see what parts of the event I’d do. We also decided to take Kendyl’s mare in the Preliminary for more practice and to really work on galloping cross-country and the show jumping. Sometimes it’s a good idea to go down a level to practice some of the finer points before you go back up to the level you’ve been competing. Since Kendyl’s aiming Megan for the two-star at Young Riders this summer, we thought it would be a good time to work on technique.

Wyatt was second after dressage on a 23.5 and finished the event on that score for second place. I was the most confident I’ve felt cross-country as far as having my eye back into the gallop. Plus, the course was a great course for Wyatt in terms of being a good fitness run and having some great exercises on it—they had skinny house then two strides to a down bank with a left turn to another skinny, up a bank then a bounce over a roll-top. As always, Southern Pines had great water complexes and Wyatt didn’t bat an eye, though he did jump in huge!

Bebe was the first horse in the ring at 8:00 in a big Novice division, won the dressage on a 21.5, was great on cross-country and in show jumping, and won her division. Allie was tied for 7th after the dressage and was the best she’s ever felt in the jumping, finishing ninth in a 3-way tie. I’m so excited for Ashley because she’s getting two of the nicest horses in Allie and Bebe, and I’m also really excited for Melinda Walton and Larry Smith, who bred Bebe and have more horses coming along.

My new horse, Palmer was in the other Novice and ended up fifth after the dressage, was amazing in show jumping and cross-country and finished fourth overall. Let me tell you, the Novice course felt like the novice Olympics, we even had to jump a trakehner! It was only Palmer’s second event, and his first was Beginner Novice, and I had no idea what to expect. I was so sad to sell both Allie and Bebe because I think so much of them and was really hoping to keep Bebe for myself. But that’s not the way things work out, so I spoiled myself and bought a horse!

The new addition to Surefire-Palm Crescent

Kendyl and Megan (Ever So Lucky) were fifth after the dressage and great in the jumping to finish fourth in the Preliminary and our plan for Southern Pines to be a remedial outing was a success. Ashlyn Dorsey was good on both of her horses in Preliminary Rider; she’s getting ready for the one-star at the NAYRC. Cosmic Girl is a new ride for her, and she’s proving to be an education. I’m sure Ashlyn will figure her out. Her other horse, Culchairn 14, which she bought from me, was back after nine months out with an injury, and even though Ashlyn went a little slow she had a great ride. It will be nice for her to hopefully have two horses qualified for this summer. She’s here in Aiken for now and is planning to go to the one-star at Poplar.

Meanwhile, we had Helen and Courtney both run Full Gallop as well as my friend Vicky Jessop, who I’ve been helping on the flat with her horse, Desert Mystery. Vickey’s a great professional, and is helped by Stephen Bradley over fences. It was really fun to have her with us for two weeks, culminating with a win in OTB on a 25 in the dressage. Vickey rides beautifully on the flat and has done a great job with her thoroughbred, and it’s fun to be with her and see her do so well. Both Helen and Courtney had weekends where in some ways things were better, but the two ended with stops cross-country and I know they were disappointed. As we all know, that happens in eventing—we have to just keep working on what needs improving.

The great news is we got home from Southern Pines to learn that Vicky Jessop’s client, Sue Southard, had tried Tazzmania and on Monday she decided to buy him, so we have another one sold. I think Meghan, Kendyl and I are all looking forward to Southern Pines II, and Helen is looking forward to other events, and then will be happy to head home to Surefire north. It is amazing how quickly time flies when you’re in Aiken!

Pine Top Winter II and Paradise Horse Trials

I had a good weekend at Pine Top. Why Not had a great dressage test and won with a 21. I had one rail down in the show jumping, which is rare for him, but he was a little bit excited to be back competing again! Cross-country started out slightly rusty, though I finally felt like I was getting into a rhythm after the fifth fence. Unfortunately, I was held at the sixth because someone in front of me had fallen. I ended with 17.2 time penalties, though I’m not sure with the hold if that was right, but I finished! After my rein mishap at Sporting Days and now the hold at Pine Top, I’m looking forward to being able to ride around a complete cross-country course with no problems! I can’t tell you how hard it was emotionally to be back at the same place I got hurt almost a year ago, and it felt good to come out of the weekend so well.

Kendyl Tracy didn’t have the most ideal weekend in the Intermediate Rider as her horse, Ever So Lucky, was really wild in dressage. She did show jump great and was really good cross-country until two from home, when Kendyl pulled one too many times, the horse hit her knee on the jump and Kendyl popped off. I’m sure she was thinking, “damn-it,” though they’ll both be fine to compete another day. Meghan O’Donoghue and Pirate finished 7th in OI2 with a personal best dressage score, which was nice as Meghan’s been working really hard on that. It was great for she and her horse to get out and get rid of some cobwebs, especially since they didn’t get to finish at Sporting Days.

Its seems like the weeks go flying by when you’re here in Aiken, and as soon as Pine Top was done we were right back at it getting ready for Paradise, which started on Friday so we had a short week to prepare. Bebe was really good in a big, hard division, and got all 7s and 8s except for one 5 and one 6 in the dressage. Her dressage ring was a bit hard for her as it was a little downhill and so is she because she’s still not mature. But she jumped great and ended up 15th in a very competitive division on a 29.6. Wyatt was awesome, and won the dressage on a 25.9, even though it wasn’t as good as the weekend before. Phillip and I had worked earlier in the week on making sure I could kick Wyatt right out of the box and let the first couple jumps back him off. That’s hard to do when you haven’t done much competing in a while! But I stuck to the plan we had worked out for my whole course at Paradise and it paid off because it was really easy to ride him around this time. We get worried about our horses being strong when we start cross-country and sometimes forget to kick. Kicking helps! And of course Wyatt was great in the show jumping and jumped clean. I had accomplished step one of my comeback plan, and that was to first get back my confidence and be competitive at Preliminary. Even though I’m entered in Intermediate at Pine Top Advanced this weekend, I’m only going to do a combined test, then run two more Preliminaries before moving up. Wyatt is still green even though he did a 2-star last fall, so I’m taking my time.

The rest of the Surefire crew had mixed results at Paradise. Gennifer Giustina, who is visiting from Colorado with her horse, Aragon II, unfortunately lost her way going to the first fence in the Training and was eliminated. My new working student, Courtney Carson and her horse Sunny Rosarian, were going well in the PT until show jumping. The horse was a little spooky and maybe not in front of Courtney’s leg so she had rails and time, but she did manage to finish. Ashlyn Dorsey, also visiting from Colorado and competing in the PT on her horse Cosmic Girl, had a good event too, and is pointing her to Young Riders this summer. She’ll probably be in Aiken for the month, then go home after the Poplar CIC. Meghan rode my horse BT Ten Mile in ONA and they finished on their dressage score. They haven’t gotten a ribbon yet, but the horse is so kind and really fun for Meghan to ride, so hopefully someone will want him. In OPA, Helen Morris and Awesome KC had a tough start in dressage, but then ended cross-country and show jumping on a better note.

Monday I had a much-needed day off (after I spent the whole morning in the barn). Tom was down for Sunday and Monday and it was nice to spend some time with him. We had a Surefire Farm dinner Monday night with all of the people who are in town and had a great time. I’ll check back after my weekend at Pine Top. By the way, did I mention that the whole week here it was in the 70s?

First Report From Aiken

We arrived in Aiken January 4th, which seems like years ago now. The first week the weather was great, but that soon turned to snow and ice and it was colder than Virginia—I guess that’s what you call welcome to Aiken! At the end of the month, Kendyl and I took five horses to Wellington, which turned out to be a great decision. My Mom came with us, too, to help with the horses, and Helen and Meghan were kind enough to stay in Aiken and ride the horses we didn’t take along.

When we arrived in Wellington we wondered why you’d want to be anywhere else that time of year because the weather is so nice! We decided to ride with Katie Prudent for jumping and Linda Zang on the flat We started out on Tuesday morning with two lessons with Linda and then had three lessons with Katie in the afternoon. I feel that, even if you’re not starting back from a long period of no competing as I am, immersing yourself in focused lessons is a great thing to do. It really gets your mind and your horse’s head around your jobs right away.

The first week in Florida we alternated lessons with Katie and Linda. The second week Linda was gone the first four days, which was perfect because we were able to get all the horses ready for a jumper show on the weekend. Kendyl and I rode in about 15 classes and the horses were all great, especially that little Bebe La Rue. She’s a fantastic jumper and has a great mind. The only class that wasn’t really great was when I took Wyatt in the High Schooling. He only had one rail, but he was so hard to ride and so spooky that day, I decided to put him back in the Medium Jumpers. I think he was a little bit off his game and didn’t really have his mind on his job. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how well you’re riding, you still have to have your partner participating!

Kendyl’s original plan was to be in Wellington for just a week, but she decided to skip the first week of school and show instead, which turned out fine—because of all the snow in D.C., her classes were cancelled anyway. She had a great round on her mare, Ever So Lucky (Megan), every time out that week and finished up on a good note. On Friday, Kendyl and I took Megan and Wyatt for flat lessons with Linda and then went to a dressage show on Saturday. We both showed Second Level and Bebe did Training. Wyatt won with a 74 percent, Bebe won her test with a 69.14, and Kendyl was respectful with a 65. I think Kendyl was suffering a bit from trying to take her horse to the next level. She has a really good First Level frame but it’s time for a little more collection and little higher carriage. Sometimes she gets it and sometimes she doesn’t, but that’s riding.

Mo, Kendyl and I all drove to Aiken on Sunday and the girls were happy to see us and ready for lessons of their own. We had one week to get all the horses and us ready to do our first event. We took everyone cross-country schooling on Tuesday. When you’ve had the winter off and are feeling rusty, that’s hard enough, but when you’ve had a whole year off it’s even worse! If you haven’t done something for a while it takes a bit to get rid of the cobwebs, no matter how good you might have been before. We went to Silva Martin for a dressage lesson on Wednesday and she was so pleased at Wyatt and Kendyl’s horse’s progress and couldn’t believe the difference since she’d last seen them.

Phillip was gone and didn’t come back until Thursday. He wanted me to school with him so I did that on Wyatt. We worked on me lengthening my reins when I needed to (my right hand is still not 100%), so that I didn’t get pulled on landing. We jumped a lot of Preliminary and Intermediate questions so I felt like I was really prepared to do Training at Sporting Days.

For the most part everyone had great first event. Meghan on Pirate and Helen on Casey had personal bests in dressage. Kendyl won her division and Bebe did her first event ever and amazed me with how smart she is. She and Allie ended up second in their divisions. I should have been second with all my horses, but I had a bit of an equipment malfunction on cross-country with Wyatt. Phillip was nice enough to come to the event and warm me up. We had a great show jumping and I headed out to cross-country. Wyatt’s last event was the two-star at Fairhill and I could tell Phillip had been competing him by the way he came out of the start box ready to run! About three-quarters of way around we had to jump off a bank and turn to the water. Right before the bank, I suddenly had no right rein, it wasn’t even attached to the bit! We jumped off the bank and then I turned hard to the left, pulling Wyatt in smaller and smaller circles to slow him. Anyone who knows Wyatt knows that he’s a little quirky, and you have to be careful what you do with him or he thinks you’re going to kill him or something! So I finally got him pulled up and then carefully got off, forgetting to unhook my vest, which luckily didn’t go off because Wyatt is short enough that the cord didn’t get stretched too tight. I’ve never seen Phillip run so fast—he thought something had happened to Wyatt or me. I showed him what had happened, that my rein had come unbuckled, and believe me, that’s the last time I don’t tape my reins for cross-country! Anyway, I had to fix my pinney and get back on and start with the water, which isn’t exactly Wyatt’s favorite jump, but he was good and he finished the course fine. So if you were wondering why I had 28.8 time penalties, it was because it took a while to get all that sorted out.

All in all we came out with a good weekend, except for Meghan’s horse, Pirate. She had to wait a long time to go cross-country, and then when Megan picked him back up he seemed lame, so she scratched. I think maybe a stud was pushing on his foot and made him uncomfortable, but in any case he’s fine now.

We took Charlie, Bebe and Allie to Full Gallop on Wednesday. They’ve made some nice changes, such as moving show jumping to a better ring and dressage to a better field. The changes were necessary and make for a nicer event. Charlie was quite good for Meghan all the way around, he’s going to be really fancy on the flat. Allie was good on the flat but I decided that the show jumping course was just a bit too much for her as she’s still green, so it was better to wait for another day, keep working at home and maybe move her back to Novice for her next event. I’ll probably do some horse shows with her, too. She’ll get it all together at some point, but it’s in her best interest to take it slow. Bebe did her first Novice at Full Gallop and she was third after dressage, and beautiful in show jumping and on cross-country. Unfortunately, I didn’t wear a watch so had time penalties. Meghan had told me that the time was hard to make on Novice and I think I didn’t really clue into just how hard it was. I felt I was pretty efficient in galloping and my turns and thought I would be fine. It’s not everyday you ride a Novice course that’s wheeled tight. I think the terrain at this event is not really gallop-y, so of course making the time is harder.

It’s Saturday morning and I’m on my way to Pinetop. It seems as though the week has gone flying by. I’m a bit nervous about being back at this event because less than a year ago, that’s where I got hurt. I’m prepared for the weekend, but I’m apprehensive about how I’m going to feel about being there. It’s been a really long recovery process and there have been so many changes in my life since my accident, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the support I’ve had from my good friends and family and that’s pretty amazing.