Once Upon A Time…

11 10 2017

Once Upon a Time there was a 19 year old college student who had big dreams but her riding skills (or lack thereof) left much to be desired. She had only ever competed through Novice level eventing, and not very successfully. She tried really hard, though. She learned how to equitate a bit on her college IHSA team from Virginia horseman Bobby Jones. That helped a little. Her best friends were Gwynn Dent and Holly Martin, who were very polished hunter/equitation riders, and she watched them every day wishing she could ride like that!

One day, after searching all over tarnation for the horse of her dreams, with a very meager budget scraped together from years of babysitting money and restaurant tips, she found “her”. The girl fell in love instantly, took her home, and named her “Fable”.  This is what she looked like on that first day:

Fable the day I brought her home

Fable the day I brought her home, age 2.

 

The girl had no idea what she was doing. She had no business starting a baby Thoroughbred under saddle. It seemed like a recipe for disaster. Her trusted friends were understandably concerned for her well-being and lack of better judgement.


Fast forward 10 years. Our first CIC*. It has been a crazy journey together, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Every step of the way, Fable and I were the blind leading the blind, but she was always willing to try and always forgiving of my rookie mistakes. We’ve had our fair share of bumps in the road, but let me tell you, there is absolutely nothing in this world like the feeling of galloping through the finish flags at your first FEI event on a horse you started from scratch.

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Our first CIC*

Every step of the way, there were milestones that seemed equally as monumental, though. I remember the first time I ever sat on her back. I thought to myself, “Holy CRAP this trot is bouncy. How am I ever going to sit this?” To the first time she ever jumped a crossrail- super awkwardly, I might add. I remember jumping her over her very first cross-country fence, too- a tiny log:

Fable at age 3. First time cross-country schooling

Fable’s first time cross-country schooling

And our first event, BN at the Virginia Horse Trials, I got dragged around cross-country with my little spaghetti arms on my 4 year old with very little steering or brakes. But let me tell you, it was GLORIOUS. You could not peel the smile from my face, I was so proud.

Fable's first event: Virginia Horse Trials 2009

Fable’s first event: Virginia Horse Trials 2009

Thats the thing about starting a baby horse from scratch. Every milestone feels like a triumphant achievement. It is incredibly rewarding. Every time you move up a level, every time you have a breakthrough in your training, it feels like a win. On the other hand, when things don’t go right, you have nobody to blame but yourself. When your horse feels super crooked and dead to the leg, guess what? Its probably your fault. When you have a crash landing on top of a cross-country fence and your horse’s confidence is shattered and takes 6 months to rebuild, guess what? That’s your fault, too. But you know what the best part of it all is? That rock solid relationship you build over a long period of time as a result of all the ups and downs. That’s something no amount of money can buy. When you’ve built a foundation of mutual trust and respect over a span of a decade and it all finally comes together in one very special weekend? Its priceless.


 

Prepping for the “Big Event”

We had a great run in the OP at Loudoun Horse Trials as our last event before the Morven CIC*, adding just a little time cross-country to our dressage score.

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Fable and her lovely groom, Pia

We scratched from CDCTA 2 weeks later to save Fable’s legs for the one star. Instead, we participated in a very educational clinic with Bonnie Mosser. She made us jump big scary jumps, and had lots of fun exercises for us to try. Thanks, Bonnie!

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Bonnie Mosser Clinic

We trailered to a nearby facility a couple of times to practice our dressage test in the standard size arena. We went cross-country schooling at Win Green. We had lots of lessons with Kiki to fine tune our skills. By the time the day came to ship up to Morven, I finally felt like we had covered all our bases and were 100% ready.

Day 1: The Jog

There are many reasons an FEI event is much more nerve-wracking than a regular horse trials. Firstly, the jog. Our extremely mature and precocious 13 year old groom, Pia, knew far more about what to expect at the jog than I did, as she had groomed at an FEI event before. The head vet, Dr. Kent Allen, was really kind and patient with me. I must have looked clueless, because he asked, “Is this your first one star?” He then explained the whole process to me and watched me jog Fable. He and his team of vets examined Fable all over and measured her breathing and heart rate. They took her passport, gave us the thumbs up and sent us on our way.

Pia and I walked cross-country once before the sun went down, then gobbled down some Pho at a Vietnamese restaurant and headed off to bed.

Day 2: Dressage/Endless Coursewalks

The following morning, Kiki and Andrea arrived bright and early to help beautify The Queen! Kiki adorned Fable with extra special braids for her big debut.

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A true team effort! 

In dressage warm up, Fable felt extremely stiff, as she often does at multi-day shows where she is stabled overnight and doesn’t get the benefit of being turned out. I did hand-walk her earlier in the morning for quite a long time to try and loosen her up, but it wasn’t enough. I tried everything to try and supple her in warm-up; lateral work, transitions, stretching, everything I could think of. At a certain point, I just knew it just wasn’t going to happen and had to make the best of what I had. By the time they called our name, Fable still felt as stiff as a wooden board. We went down the centerline and completed the test as accurately as possible, with a little bobble in the second counter canter at the end. Overall, it was a stiff test, resulting in a less than desirable score and landing us two thirds of the way down the leaderboard. Although disappointing, everyone reminded me it was our first one star and there were still two phases to prepare for. A couple of people suggested that next time, I try lunging her first thing in the morning before dressage, or get on and practice stretchy trot for a long while before warm-up. Lots to work on! More differences between an FEI event and a horse trials: there are TWO dressage judges, one at C and one at E! And the dressage test is multiple pages long!

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Our first FEI dressage test

We spent the remainder of the day walking courses. Kiki walked the course with me not once, but TWICE and I think in total I walked it about 4-5 times. There were some challenging questions that concerned me a bit, especially 5ab, which involved two tables set on a very steep slicing angle with 2 long strides in between. The angle was SUPER steep and left a huge opportunity for a run-out to the left. There were 3 waters on course, and the first water was the most significant- it was an abc combination with a pretty big jump into the water, 6 attacking strides up a steep mound with a skinny brush on top, then down the other side of the mound to a big brush on a 90 degree right hand turn. It was a serious boldness/accuracy question. 10abc was really interesting; it was a log in the woods, down into a gully sort of thing, then up a bank made out of stone, then downhill 5-6 strides to a big upright corner. All of the single fences on course were BIG and WIDE and SOLID. The course was really beautiful and used the natural terrain in a really thoughtful way. It had a great flow to it and the crew there made a huge effort to aerovate the galloping lanes.

The showjumping course was twisty-turny and had many big square oxers off a short turn. I made a mental note of how the CIC* course was significantly more massive than your typical Preliminary stadium course. Kiki instructed me to be sure to get my powerful, attacking canter from the very beginning and to keep kicking around the turns.

Saturday night I slept for maybe 2 hours. I was super nervous, as usual, and kept replaying the course over and over in my head on repeat.

Day 3: The Fun Part

Sunday morning came early, and we all busily prepared for the task ahead. Pia organized/packed all of the supplies we would need for the vet box after cross-country (yet another thing that is different about FEI events) and I walked my courses one more time. Kiki, Andrea and Pia all helped get Fable ready and before I knew it, it was time to head down to warm-up. We had to hold off on putting Fable’s boots on until we were down at the ring, as the FEI steward has to inspect all the boots and watch the groom put the boots on the horse.

I started cantering around warm up and plopped over the crossrail a couple of times when Kiki called me over in a very serious voice. She said something on the lines of, “That canter was terrible. I want you to breathe and get going and start RIDING and I don’t ever want to see that pukey canter again!” I took a deep breath amidst the complete chaos that was the warmup ring, put my leg on and started warming up with that “German-style” canter that we had been working towards in my lessons with lots and lots of POWER! Then, it was our turn. Kiki led us into the arena, I picked up that attacking canter, and rode the most consistent, rhythmic stadium round of my life. It felt awesome. I kicked around all the turns, rode positively and kept a really consistent rhythm, all things we had been working really hard on leading up to the event. Fable barely touched two of the rails and they came down, but I didn’t care in the slightest. It just felt so awesome, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with my horse. She was such a champ.

Cross-country was the ride of my life. We came out of the start box with guns blazing and jumped the first four fly fences out of stride. We galloped up to 5ab, the slicing combination, and I set her up for it really deliberately. She jumped A and I had to really ride forward to get the 2 strides in between, but she responded like the crafty little thing that she is, locked on to B, and jumped out in two. The first water rode flawlessly. She dove in and jumped through A, B and C like it was nothing- bing, bang, boom! I felt really confident the whole ride, and that confidence grew stronger and stronger with each fence. Fable attacked every fence in stride and flew over all the big tables effortlessly. I have never felt more in sync with my horse than that cross-country run. We galloped through the finish flags with gas still left in the tank, and just a handful of time penalties.

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Teamwork

In the vet box, the whole Dappir Ridge team was there to help- strip all her tack off, sponge, scrape, walk, repeat. Fable recovered rather easily and Dr. Allen came and inspected her, measuring her heart rate and breathing again and making sure she looked happy and unscathed from her run.

Let it be known that there is absolutely no possible way we could have completed this event without the help and dedication from everyone on the Dappir Ridge team. Kiki Osbourne is just the most invested coach ever. She went out of her way to make sure we were 100% prepared for our big day, even going as far as to braid Fable for me, walk courses multiple times to ease my nerves and was the first one waiting for us at the cross-country finish to help cool Fable out. Over the past two years, she has helped to reinvent my riding a bit to better suit my horse (“German style!” “More power!”) and made me feel so much more confident jumping the big jumps. Without her, I would not have had the confidence in myself to even enter a CIC*.

Pia Zuffoletti is the best, most professional groom I have ever met, and she is only 13 years old! She was the “boss lady” the whole weekend, scheduling timelines for every step of the way, making sure everything was sparkling clean and in perfect order, and ensuring that Fable looked like a true FEI horse all weekend. She kept track of minute markers, heart and respiration rates, striding in related distances on course, and ride times. She is a true numbers lady and organization queen! Most of all, she kept reminding me to smile and have fun the whole time when I was so nervous. One day, when she trots down the centerline at Rolex, I will be her biggest fan!

Andrea Cushing took time off from work to come cheer us on and help out. How amazing is that? She came to coursewalks, in gates, rider meetings and took the most amazing videos of every phase! She was the best cheerleader and was always right there to lend a helping hand! Thanks Andrea!

Let us not forget the people behind the scenes that helped to make it all happen. Erica Caravaglia ensures that The Queen receives the royal treatment on a daily basis. She puts up with Fable’s quirks, idiosyncrasies and mood swings. Under Erica’s watchful eye, I never have to worry about Fable when I’m not there. Rebecca Barber lent her expert advice, motivational pep talks, and her lovely dressage saddle so that I wouldn’t have to wear my shadbelly with my cross-country monoflap! Jairus McQuaid Hunt put up with me being an absentee fiancee for months leading up to the event so that I could make preparing for the CIC* my top priority. He is always supportive and understanding of this crazy life I lead, never questioning or scrutinizing the insane amount of time, energy and money it requires. He and my houndy babies were right there on Sunday to cheer us on as well.

What do you do when all of your dreams have come true? What’s next? Well, for starters, Fable is finished for the year so that I can save her legs for next season. We will aim for a CCI* in the Spring. After that, who knows? She has never felt sounder, stronger or braver. If she comes out next season feeling as good as she does now, maybe there is another move up in our future. We will play it by ear. I will always try my best to always do right by her and enjoy the journey, wherever it takes us. 🙂

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The Little Horse with the Big Heart

20 08 2017

Oh my goodness has 2017 been a crazy year so far! Life is always changing, yet there is one constant for me, and that is Fable. We have been together for about 10 years at this point and I never tire of being greeted by those big donkey ears every day. I’ve always been a long-term relationship kind of girl and my relationship with Fable is by far the longest relationship I’ve ever had!

Life Milestones and Loudoun

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Home Sweet Home

Everything happened all at once last spring. First, Jairus and I got engaged at the end of February. Then, in April, we bought a farm! We named it Tall Tale Farm after you know who. It is on 11 acres with a 100 year old post civil war era farmhouse and a few outbuildings. It has two ample pastures and will one day be Fable’s home once we get around to replacing all of the fencing. We spent every waking moment renovating that place and making it livable before moving in, which was quite the task because of the age of the house and also because it had been uninhabited for a number of years prior to us buying it. Luckily, Jairus is a handyman extraordinaire and somehow knows how to do literally EVERYTHING. He replaced all of the plumbing in the house by himself. He single-handedly gutted and remodeled the bathroom including replacing the floor, all of the sheetrock and insulation, laying tile and everything in between. We had to replace the doors and have the crawl space insulated and vapor sealed. We had the hardwood floors refinished and repainted just about every wall in the house. There was a lot of scrubbing, sanding and mudding of walls. We built an enormous garden (about 40 x 50 ft), which we tilled and planted. Jairus built me a beautiful chicken coop for my chickens, because of course I decided to buy 8 baby chicks the moment we closed on the farm. What an adventure!

I planned for Loudoun to be our first horse trials of the season, back in April. Of course, as luck would have it, the event happened to land right on our move-in weekend! Amidst all the chaos of packing and moving, we ended up having a fabulous run at Loudoun. Fable won the Open Training, finishing on her dressage score of 28! What an awesome pony!

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A great way to start the season!

Waredaca

Next up was Waredaca in May, where we ran the Prelim. Fable felt quite stiff for our dressage test and I couldn’t work her out of it. I have learned with this horse that sometimes you just have to go down the centerline and make the best with what you have, and that’s what I did. I tried to squeeze the best test I could out of her even though she was not as supple as usual, and we received a 34.3, good enough to put us in the running.

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Our dressage test was tense but we made the best of it

In stadium warm-up, we were loping around and jumping out of a big long stride and I thought everything was going quite swimmingly until Kiki called us over in her angry voice. Uh-oh. She said, “You look like you are about to go in the hunter ring at the Keswick horse show! What are you doing?!” She told me to put a fire under it and get going. So I did. We went into stadium in attack mode and jumped double clear.

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Double clear stadium

I was super nervous for cross-country. In fact, I didn’t sleep for a single minute the night before because I got myself all worked up about the course and couldn’t stop thinking about it all night long. My heart was beating so loud I could hear it. Why do I worry so much, you ask? Why do I lose sleep over coursewalks when it is a known fact that Fable is a dynamite cross-country horse? I suppose it is because I put a lot of pressure on myself to give her the best ride possible and I really, really don’t like making mistakes. And I guess I’m a nervous nell. Regardless, the course was really quite difficult in my opinion. It was big, technical, and had some footwork and terrain questions. It had two waters with the second including a pretty big jump in. Fable rocked around superbly. All that worrying for nothing! We came home with just 9.6 time penalties, good enough for 4th place!

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Second water at Waredaca

Surefire

Following Waredaca, we headed up to Surefire in Purcellville, Virginia. I brought a delightful young horseman-in-training with me named Pia! She was a superb groom for us and if you met her you wouldn’t believe she is only 12 years old. She is very mature for her age and did such an excellent job of tending to miss Fable all weekend. The night before the show we stayed at Kiki’s friend Martha’s house, who was very hospitable and also allowed me to stable Fable overnight in her barn.

For dressage, I was committed to replicating that winning test we had at Loudoun, Especially since Fable was tight and tense at Waredaca, I wanted to make sure to avoid that happening again. Our test was very smooth, loose and consistent. Fable was soft and light and supple. She felt great and our test felt accurate. I came out of the ring feeling great about it. Unfortunately it was one of those situations where the judge did not agree. She commented that Fable was not “connected” enough. Frustrating, but you know the saying “there’s no use crying over spilled milk”? I have hereforth changed the words to: “theres no use crying over a dressage test”. I will leave it at that.

Stadium was on grass and Fable jumped great, except we had one rail. Still not exactly sure why it came down because we got a great distance to it and she was jumping really well, but the rail was coming down all day across the divisions. Alas. Here the same saying could apply: “There’s no use crying over a rail”!

Fable charged around cross-country like the rocket ship that she is. The course was on the softer side, I would say, compared to Waredaca, but had some decent questions and some terrain. We came home with 9.6 time penalties. EXACTLY the same number of time penalties we had at Waredaca. Go figure. At least we’re consistent! We finished the weekend in 6th place.

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Pia babysat us in the start box. There she is on the left with the ponytail and the white hat!

Fair Hill International

Next up was a fix-a-test that we did at the Plain Dealing Farm Schooling HT, where we got to run through our CIC* dressage test and then the judge provided comments and helpful tips for a few minutes afterwards. It was a great learning experience for me and made me realize that we have a lot of fine-tuning to do before going down the centerline at our first CIC* this fall!

The following weekend, we headed up to Fair Hill International, which is a 5+ hour haul through some of the most miserable traffic areas- straight through D.C. and Baltimore! We went alone, as Kiki was busy that weekend as were all potential grooms. Luckily, we were able to arrange for some help ahead of time, as I refuse to compete at Preliminary without a trainer anymore. Those days are over! Upon arrival, Mark Combs walked courses with me and provided some really helpful tips on how to make time. He used a meter wheel and then identified where each of the minute markers were located around course so I could keep the pace better. He showed me areas where I could cut corners and save time there. He also suggested that I count up on my watch instead of counting down, which I had never tried before! After cross-country, we walked stadium, which was SO twisty turny! There were so many 90-degree turns. Usually stadium courses are pretty predictable across the board, but this one had me downright confused.

Mimi Combs was kind enough to help us in dressage. We were having a great test until we started our first counter canter. Counter canter is one of Fable’s best movements, and I took that for granted a little bit. As we were coming around the turn, I sort of relaxed for a second and thought, “phew, here comes the easy part”, and took my leg off. And Fable thought, “Oh, you want me to trot!” So that movement was totally botched. We received a 2 on it. Ouch. Luckily, the remainder of the test was great, and we finished with a 34.1. Had we not broke to the trot in that one movement, we would have scored in the twenties!

We had yet another coach helping us warm up for jumping, Kurt Martin. He was very kind, helpful, and offered some great last minute tips. The stadium course was total carnage across divisions with anywhere from 2-6 rails coming down in any given round. I got to riding a bit backwards in stadium, but Fable jumped out of her skin for me like the saint that she is, and we landed a double clear. She was one of only two horses in our division to jump around clear. That horse is so forgiving; if I ride poorly to a fence, she doesn’t get offended and doesn’t hold a grudge. She will continue on as though nothing has happened. It is the most wonderful quality in a horse and let it be known that I am thankful every day for the privilege of having a partner like that!

The footing was absolutely perfect for cross-country. I took all of the inside turns that Mark had suggested, counted up on my watch, and paid attention to the minute markers. I did take one too many tugs before a few of the fences, which cost us precious seconds, but we were really moving otherwise. The course had lots of up-bank combinations (three!!!), a big trakehner, a significant ABC water combination and two corners. We came through the finish flags with only 4.8 time penalties, which is the fastest we have ever gone! I really tried to make the time, and I think the places where I could have put the pedal to the metal more were right of of the start box, and the last few strides in front of the fences. I need to learn to jump out of a big gallop stride more and not micro-manage. Mark and Mimi reminded me that each tug costs 1 second. If I tug once in front of each fence, that would add up to 18 seconds. It is amazing that after 10 years of riding Fable, there is still so much to learn. Regardless, we ended up moving several places up the leaderboard after cross-country and finished in second place!

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“The Queen” after cross-country at FHI.

Looking Forward

It is crazy to think that after all of the events we have done over the past 2 seasons, I am still taking them one at a time. Do we have goals? Absolutely. But Fable’s soundness and well being is paramount, so I still treat her like a china doll. I still jog her after each jump school, holding my breath all the while. Each time we come through the finish flags cross-country, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. There is only one Fable, and somehow I get to be the one to have her.

We have a couple more runs before a “BIG thing” at the end of the September [that I shall not mention by name] that we have been working towards for many years now. Hopefully the stars will align and everything will go according to plan. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy every ride on my little horse with the big heart.





Maryland, Waredaca and Season’s End

20 11 2016

Now that the 2016 season is over, I am finally able to reflect on what was perhaps the most rewarding year Fable and I have ever had together. The end of the eventing season is always bittersweet- I always miss the incomparable rush of galloping cross-country, the adrenaline and nerves when entering the start box, that incredible feeling of landing from the last stadium fence knowing your horse just laid down a double clear. Things I don’t miss quite as much: waking up for horse shows at 3:30am, hauling a horse trailer through stop-and-go traffic, dressage in general, and feeling so unreasonably nervous before cross-country that I want to vomit. Like I said, bittersweet. Fable’s Air Jordans have been pulled and she’s looking more like a mule than a finely tuned eventing machine as of late. But that’s ok because in a few months time, she will head back down to Sarah Morton boot camp for the winter to be reformed. 🙂

Maryland Horse Trials

Maryland was supposed to be our first Prelim back since Fable’s injury but things didn’t go the way I envisioned. Fable and I stayed with our other family, the Wiggins’, who always make us feel so welcome. The day started off with me nearly missing my dressage time because I had memorized the wrong time. I was nonchalantly tacking up, taking my sweet time, thinking I had about 45 minutes to spare when Kiki informed me that I was supposed to do my test in 10 minutes. What a wake-up call! I threw Fable’s tack on as fast as possible, swung into the saddle and trotted into warm-up with only 6 minutes before I had to trot down the centerline. Basically just enough time to canter and leg yield once in each direction. Considering the circumstances, I thought we put in a decent test. It felt accurate and consistent, albeit not particularly supple. The judge roasted us for Fable not being “through” enough. You know what they say about the best laid plans!

Next, it was time to walk cross-country. Last time we had run the OP at Maryland was two years prior. I remember the course being quite challenging, but NOTHING like the course we walked this year. My god, it was monstrous. Absolutely maxed out. Not to mention it was pouring rain. My confidence dwindled throughout the coursewalk as I began to think that this was a terrible idea. There was absolutely zero margin for error. By the time we reached fence 18, I turned to Kiki and said, “I’m not doing this.” She agreed with my decision and said that the course looked more like a one star course, definitely not a good move back up to Prelim like we had hoped. I was really bummed about the decision but knew that it was in our best interest not to run cross-country and save Fable for another day. It was really disappointing to spend all of that time, money and energy and not even get to complete the event. Come to find out later that the new course designer beefed the course up to be a last prep event for the horses headed to the Virginia CCI*. It was especially frustrating because the event was not advertised as such. I’m sure Fable could have jumped around fine, but the thought of galloping around a one star course in the rain and mud and knowing that if I made a mistake, it could end really, really badly was enough to solidify my decision. Horsemanship, man. Gets me every time.

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Fable jumping around clear at MDHT in the rain

The day ended on a positive note, thankfully. Fable laid down a clear round in stadium in the pouring rain. She jumped around like a rocket ship. I hauled the 3 1/2 hours home with a lot on my mind. Firstly, I was thankful to have my beautiful, honest mare in tow, safe and sound. Secondly, I knew that we had to do just one more before throwing in the towel on 2016.

Waredaca

After much deliberation, I chose Waredaca as our last event of the season. Kiki wasn’t able to come, but thankfully Stephie had made the trip down and was able to help us. By the time Fable and I arrived at the show grounds the night prior after battling through traffic on the beltway, it was twilight and the light was fading fast. Stephie and I walked the course and finished in the pitch dark. I was able to get an overall impression though, despite hardly being able to see, and the course was exactly as described: a proper Preliminary with some serious questions, but also fair, over gently rolling terrain. Stephie gave us a very specific plan of attack, which helped ease my nerves.

Saturday morning came, bringing with it a wave of freezing cold. Fable felt like a “giraffe pogo stick made of solid wood” in dressage warm-up, she was just so stiff. I took my time trying all the tricks in the book trying to supple her. By the time we trotted down the centerline, I had accepted the fact that I was going to have to squeeze as much as I could out of “Wooden Fable” and make the best of it. Like Maryland, the test was fairly accurate and consistent with a couple of really nice lengthenings, but lacking the suppleness we had achieved at the beginning of the season. We were dealt an appropriate, middle-of-the-road score. I have learned that no matter how much time I put into our flatwork at home, it all comes down to the horse I have in warmup on the day of the show. Some days she comes out feeling like a million bucks. Sometimes she comes out feeling like a giraffe pogo stick made of solid wood. Mares!

In daylight, I was able to appreciate the beauty and variety of the cross-country course. There were two waters, the first one being quite early on course at fence 5abc. It was a technical gymnastic exercise: a boathouse, one stride to a drop in, four attacking strides on a bending line to a boathouse out. The second water was a turning exercise: a big, skinny log in, then a 90-degree turn to a rolltop in the middle of the water, then a few strides to an up bank. Also on course were a couple of jumps into space, an up-down bank to a skinny chevron, and a triple up bank to a table on top on a bending 4 stride, and two brushes on a related distance that you had to jump on a steep angle.  The terrain was beautiful, rolling hills. The course designer did an incredible job of creating variety on the course; no two jumps looked the same. There was a great balance of bold, attacking-type fences and technical footwork questions. One question, about mid-course, worried me quite a bit. I walked the line that Stephie had planned for us about 100 times. It was an AB combination that involved slicing a large bench on a very steep angle, then 3 attacking strides to a big, solid, skinny corner. The line that we walked was really the only option, but it left a big opportunity for a run-out. It required a really good shot in, and accuate, bold riding.

On cross-country, Fable attacked everything effortlessly. She was her usual honest self, hunting for the flags as we galloped around. She skipped through both waters with ease:

Video of Second Water

On our approach to the AB combination that I was all worried about, as we were making our turn to approach the A on a very specific line, Fable slipped really hard and nearly fell down. She hates to be over-studded so its always a gamble of having too little or too much stud in with her. In this case, it was too little and her hind end slipped right out from underneath her on the turn. She righted herself in a stride like the crafty little thing she is, but by that time we were about 2 strides out from the A. I had to make a split-second decision: if I circled to re-group, we would almost certainly be penalized with a run-out. So I thought, “ok, Fable, lets go!” and kicked on. Fable locked on instantly and rocket-shipped over A, put in 3 attacking strides and skipped over B with not so much as a second thought. THIS is why we keep her around! 🙂 We finished with a clear round and some time.

Video of Last Fence 

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Through the second water

Fable was quite tired warming up for stadium. When usually she jumps me out of the tack in showjumping, this time she wasn’t jumping with as much spring as she usually does. I warmed up over just a couple of fences, as not to over-tire her, then rode the course according to the plan that Stephie had laid out for us. Fable tried her little heart out, despite being tired, and finished with a double clear round. She has a heart of gold! We finished in 4th place, to end the season on a very high note. Jairus was incredibly helpful in his role as super groom and has learned how to clean tack, change studs, hand-walk, pick stalls, stuff ice boots and re-set jumps in warm-up like a pro. I don’t know what Fable and I would do without him!

Video of Showjumping

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Now, having a bit of down time to reflect on this past year, I realize how very fortunate I am to be able to compete this magnificent animal. She’s quirky and high maintenance and opinionated. She’s tricky on the flat and has to be led into showjumping like a racehorse and will not hack out alone. But when push comes to shove, she loves her job and is damn good at it. She tries her heart out for me. What did I ever do to deserve such a thing?

Last year around this time, Fable was relegated to stall rest and 20 minutes of tack walking per day under heavy sedation. She was so unpredictable and questionably sound that I was just about ready to give her away. Now, one year later, she’s sounder and stronger than ever. She finished in the top 5 every time out, including a win, and didn’t have a single rail all season. Of course there is always room for improvement, like the whole dressage situation and the fact that we have yet to make the time at Preliminary, but there’s plenty of time for that. At the end of the season, most of all, I look forward to many more seasons with the horse of my dreams.

RBPC Combined Test

Our little family





Eggs in a Basket

28 09 2016

 

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My super groom (boyfriend) got Fable to stand in a bucket! Hell has frozen over!

Growing up, I was always told “don’t put your eggs all in one basket!” I’ve mostly lived by that in an effort to avoid disappointment. Like applying to 17 colleges. That was pretty awful, but my parents REALLY didn’t want me putting my eggs in one basket, so I put them in 17 different baskets! Or applying to jobs as a teacher upon completing grad school. I applied to 70 or 80 jobs in an effort to not end up disappointed. WELL-one thing that I’ve learned about horses over the years is that disappointment is inevitable no matter what, so you’d better mentally prepare yourself! Especially when you have only one horse, 100% of your free time, expandable income, energy and sanity is hedged on one four-legged creature. I have one event horse. She’s all I’ve got. And she’s a special one, so in that aspect of my life, I am putting ALL of my eggs in the Fable basket, hell or high water!

CDCTA Horse Trials

We entered CDCTA last minute, after having to scratch from Loudoun HT the previous weekend because Fable was sore on the hard-as-cement ground. We had weeks and weeks of drought in central Virginia without a drop of rain, and the ground really suffered because of it. CDCTA was no exception, although Fable had recovered from her soreness so off we went. We had a very pleasant dressage test:

Video of dressage test 

Which put us in the lead on a 30! I have NEVER, I mean NEVER been first after dressage and luckily did not find this out until I was done jumping because I’m sure it would have gone to my head and affected my riding!

Fable jumped around double clear in showjumping: video of stadium round

And clocked around cross-country with time to spare. She was incredibly rideable and was light as a feather in the bridle the whole way round. The whole round felt smooth and fast. My friend Anna, who was also competing there, told me her trick to making time, which is to determine the halfway point of the course and determine what half of the optimum time is, then write that on your arm. At that point on course, you then make sure that you are at or under that time to gauge whether you need to keep on rolling or put the pedal to the metal! It really worked and I have been using that trick ever since!

Upon completion of the event, we found out that we had won, and also won the Thoroughbred Incentive Program high point award! I am still on cloud nine from that day.

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Surefire Horse Trials 

I had wanted to enter a difficult Training before we move back up to the big P, so we headed up to Purcellville for the Surefire Horse Trials. Dressage had some bobbles and was not our best, but good enough for a 33. I had warmed her up for 5 minutes too long, and with Fable there is about a 5 minute window between being not warmed up enough and warmed up TOO MUCH!

Stadium was great, Fable jumped around double clear as she usually does. Cross-country was quite a tough Training with some big fences and interesting combinations, as expected. There was also lots of terrain, so I knew I would have to make an extra effort to keep attacking and stay in that rhythm the whole course in order to make time. Surefire did an amazing job of aerating the footing, as it still had not rained at this point. It was evident to me that they had put a lot of effort into preparing the footing for the event, which I really appreciated!

When it came time for us to leave the start box, I made up my mind to attack right from the start and out we went. Fable gave me that same smooth, fast ride as she had at CDCTA, just dead honest and rideable the entire way. She never put a foot wrong. We came through the finish flags with time to spare (thanks to Anna’s trick!).

Video of Cross-Country 1

Video of Cross Country 2

As we were icing Fable back at the trailer a little while later, the girl parked next to us asked me how my ride went. I smiled and told her that it was amazing, and that Fable was my old Preliminary horse that had suffered a major soft tissue injury last year, spent 9 months locked in a stall, and I had thought I might never get to ride her again. I told her that we were competing at the Training level and I was just enjoying every minute, regardless of the level. I’ve put all my eggs in the Fable basket, because she’s worth it. We’ve had our share of extreme lows, but the high of being able to gallop this amazing creature cross country far outweighs everything else. I feel privileged to be able to ride this horse every day and to be able to call her mine.

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My wrinkly copilots





Putting it in Perspective

27 07 2016

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It has been over a year since my last blog post, but for those of you who don’t know, I assure you I have a good excuse. The photo above encapsulates our triumphant return to eventing after a year full of uncertainty, lost hope and lots (I mean LOTS) of tears. I could write endlessly about this story but for your sakes and my sanity, I’ll put it in a nutshell.

A Guy Named Dr. Cowles

On Memorial Day of 2015, I received the devestating diagnosis that Fable had sustained a soft tissue injury to her foreleg. This news was dealt by Dr. Reynolds Cowles, founder of Blue Ridge Equine, who for the next 9 months had to put up with my hysterical sobbing as I slowly but surely lost my mind. The initial diagnosis was 3 months of stall rest with ultrasounds every 6 weeks to monitor the progress. 3 months ultimately became 9 months. We tried all different types of sedatives to maintain Fable’s sanity on stall rest. None of them worked very well. To say she was difficult to handle would be an understatement. Since she needed to be hand-walked every day, I resorted to administering a generous cocktail of Ace and Sedivet IM just to bring her out of the stall. Not to mention that about a week after Fable got injured, I wound up in the ER with a dislocated shoulder and had to get stitches in my chin and hand due to a freak sunbathing accident (long story). So as luck would have it, my horse and I were both crippled for a good while. Let’s just say it was not a good time.

During this time, Dr. Cowles and I got to know each other due to his frequent visits to re-scan Fable’s leg. Now let me tell you a thing or two about Dr. Cowles. He is a man of few words and even fewer smiles. He tells it like it is, no sugar coating. He is as old school as they get. With all of the advancements of modern medicine over the past 50 years, he steadfastly believes that the best treatment for an injury is good old fashioned time. I gave him my 100% trust and followed his incredibly conservative rehab instructions to a T.

If you’ve ever rehabbed a horse, you will understand my sentiment that hand-walking and tack walking are absolutely riveting. That being the case, when walking endlessly in the hot sun for 30 minutes around and around in circles, I got to thinking real hard about horses and life in general. I got to thinking about the thousands upon thousands of dollars I was spending on rehabbing a horse that tried to kill me every time I took her out of the stall. I got to thinking about her uncertain prognosis. I got to thinking about how there are no certainties in life, and at the end of the day, this horse that once was an eventing machine may be just sound enough to be a pasture ornament. And if she did miraculously come sound, she may never get her brain back enough to do the stuff that we used to do. I decided, after much deliberation and psychological torment, that if Fable did come sound, I would sell her as soon as possible and cut my losses. It was the only reasonable thing to do.

Remember how I said Dr. Cowles was a man of few smiles? Well one day, about 9 months into our recovery process, I saw the man crack a smile. He had asked me to jog Fable, like he did every time he came. And every other time he regarded us with a poker face like no other, then a simple head shake and would say, “I’ll be back in 6 weeks to re-scan. Keep on doing what you’re doing”. This time, he smiled. And I couldn’t help but smile back because I could see it on his face. Fable was back in business.

Sarah Morton: Horse Magician

By the time Fable was ready to return to real work, it was February and the ground was frozen solid. There was no question in my mind what the next step was. I brought Fable down to Sarah to return to full work and hopefully be sold. Let me just reiterate what a difficult decision that was. I deliberated back and forth for months. I was absolutely tormented about potentially selling my best friend, my partner in crime, my forever horse. She and I had been through so much together. My friends listened to me cry and tried to weigh the options objectively. Jairus was as patient as can be, despite my constant crying and hysteria. I finally decided that it would be best for Fable and I to part ways and off to Aiken we went.

The minute I started driving back up Highway 20 with my empty trailer in tow, I knew in my heart of hearts that I just couldn’t do it. And weeks later when people expressed interest in Fable, I knew for sure that my mind was made up. Hell or high water, she was mine for keeps. Meanwhile, I kept receiving glowing reports regarding her progress in Aiken. Sarah is a horse magician, let that be known far and wide. By the time I visited Aiken on my spring break in April, my horse was jumping courses, doing trot sets and was sound as can be, both body and mind. That first time I got to jump my pocket rocket again (under Sarah’s careful supervision), I couldn’t peel the smile from my face. My girl was BACK!

Middleburg Horse Trials / Being Grateful

By the time Fable arrived back in Virginia in May, she was a new woman. She had a new brain, a bionic leg and was feeling like 10 million bucks. Kiki (my trainer here in VA) encouraged me to enter the Middleburg Horse Trials as our first event, which was to take place in mid-June and would allow me ample time to figure out how to ride my horse again! Sarah issued a final instruction though- that I should run at least two Trainings before moving back up to Preliminary, just to be safe. You had better believe I was going to follow Sarah’s orders, as Sarah always knows best. Besides-I suddenly had a new worldview. Every ride on Fable felt like a gift. I was not entitled to it. I did not deserve it. She had made this miraculous recovery and I was appreciative of every single ride, no matter what.

Middleburg was like a dream, in hindsight. Kiki coached us every step of the way and did lots of hand-holding, which I needed after not competing for a year. Dressage was great, we scored a 31. Fable had so much suspension I nearly got motion sickness from sitting the trot. She floated around and gave it her all, just like the old days. Stadium was foot-perfect. She jumped out of her skin, yet was perfectly adjustable and game at the same time. Cross-country was the highlight of my life in recent memory. It was our best round that I can remember. She was in full attack mode the whole course and we took every fence in stride. We came through those finish flags and I remembered again how grateful I was to be there on that hot Virginia day, sitting astride my magnificent partner who was just as happy to be back out there as I was.

Video of our Dressage Test

My boyfriend = groom of the year!

My boyfriend = groom of the year!

 

Maryland Horse Trials / Tara to the Rescue

For our next event, we entered the Maryland Horse Trials II, but we adjusted a few things beforehand. First, Fable’s amazing farrier Chris Miller put front pads on her to combat the hard as cement ground that we’ve been experiencing here. Then, Kiki recommended that I start Fable on a regimen of Adequan and Cosequin ASU to get her feeling more limber and comfortable, as she had been feeling a bit stiff overall.  Soon thereafter, Fable began to feel like a new horse. No wonder that stuff is so expensive; it really works!

At Maryland, it was 95 degrees yet again. Kiki warmed us up for dressage and tweaked a few details just before we entered the ring. A little while earlier, she also drew me a diagram of the 15 meter trot circles in the test that I was having trouble visualizing. (If you read this blog you will know that geometry has never been my strong suit). Well, lets just say that it all finally came together that day and we scored a 28! We finally broke into the twenties! It took me until I was 28 years old to score a 28, but better late than never, right?

Just as we were getting ready to jump, the announcer declared that the remainder of the event that evening was canceled due to an incoming lightning storm and that everyone had to evacuate the premises as soon as possible. He declared that if anyone wanted to complete the event and showjump/ run cross-country, they would have to return at 7am tomorrow. Now this was a major problem because of a couple of reasons. One, we had trailered in for the day from 3 hours away. It was already nearly 5pm by the time the announcement was made. To haul 3 hours home, then wake up at 3am and haul 3 hours back to Maryland for a 7am start time was insanity. Loch Moy was fully booked for stabling that evening, so staying there was out of the question. Suddenly a lightbulb went off in my head. I called my good friend Tara, who lives only a half hour or so from Loch Moy to see if she would be able to accommodate us last minute. In true Tara fashion, she said, “Of course! Come on over!”

Fable bunked for the night at Tara’s barn, where she has stayed many times before. Being that I wasn’t expecting this to be an overnight event, I was missing a few key things such as: 1. Grain and hay for Fable, 2. Clothes, 3. Toothbrush, 4. EVERYTHING! Tara took me to the store to pick up some incidentals, then we went out for a nice leisurely Indian dinner together. I stayed at Tara’s house where she outfitted me with pajamas. I got to hang out with Daddy Wiggins, who is like my second father. It was quite a nice evening, albeit unplanned. Some things happen for a reason and I think it was due time I got to see my Tara!

Sunday morning came early, and Fable jumped around like a champ. She jumped around double clear in showjumping and was very enthusiastic, dragging me around a little bit. The storm from the night before added a thin, slick layer on top of the cement footing on cross-country, so after slipping pretty hard in warmup we decided to take it on the slow side. I know, shocking. (I hardly ever make time). Fable was very game and dragged me around a little more, which made her not as rideable as she usually is, but I managed to point her at all the right things and she was exuberant as ever coming through the finish flags.

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Putting it in Perspective

Event riders are planners. We always ask each other, “what’s next?” For Fable and I, we’re taking the one-event-at-a-time thing very seriously. I’m not planning ahead, at least not for now. We will try to take each obstacle in stride and roll with the punches. I’m just enjoying having my girl back. Each and every day I’m thankful to the village of people that helped make her recovery happen: Dr. Cowles, Sarah Morton, Kiki Osbourne, Chris Miller, Jairus and all of my friends, you know who you are! 😉 The Fablemonster is back to fight another day!





Half Full vs Half Empty

21 05 2015

When I was competing at the lower levels, I would most often go to events alone, just Fable and I. While this was perfectly do-able at Beginner Novice through Training level, it is not generally advisable at Prelim, and I probably won’t ever do it again.

Lolo, being my muse of positivity, is always telling me to look at the glass half full, so here goes:

Half Full: Fable and I executed the best dressage test of our career at Fair Hill International last weekend. In warm-up, if she could speak English, she would have said: “OK Ma, today’s the day. Let’s show ’em”. She put on her twinkle toes and just absolutely nailed it. It felt so good I was grinning like an idiot the whole time. 

Half Empty: We scored a 30 instead of a 29.

Half Full: My horse was jumping like an absolute rocket ship in show jumping. I rode her forward in a flowing manner, nailed every distance and felt very good about myself.

Half Empty: I over-studded her because of the sticky footing and somehow 3 rails came down.

Half Full: We completed yet another beefy Area II Prelim cross-country course in full attack mode. 

Half Empty: A few jumps from home, we slid into a table. Still not sure why this happened. I suppose she could have lost her footing on take-off, or the fact that I had asked her for a longish spot (she tends to not prefer longer distances). It was the A element of a combination where you had to slice two big tables in 2 strides; in theory she could have mis-read the question. Regardless, we slid right into it rather dramatically. After we recovered, I paused for a second, took a deep breath, circled back to it and finished the course in cracking fashion. After cross-country, I discovered a rather deep cut on the outside of Fable’s right hind pastern where she must have somehow studded herself. She ultimately needed stitches.

This magnificent animal

This magnificent animal

Event riders are supposed to uphold the widely accepted reputation of being tough as nails. I held it together until the moment I got into my truck and began pulling out of the show grounds. Event riders are not supposed to cry. I cried my eyeballs out driving down the road thinking about all the things I could have done differently. I thought about my beautiful, proud, magnificent animal standing in that trailer with stitches in her leg because of a split second mistake. When something bad happens to my horse, I am reduced to a blubbering, self-depricating mess of a person. Event riders are supposed to be proud, but when something goes wrong, I feel like the whole world is crumbling around me.

Lolo reminded me that our sport is not easy (if it were easy, everybody would do it!) and no matter how much you prepare, there is always the chance that things will not go according to plan, especially at this level. People always talk about eventing and how the highs are high and the lows are very, very low. Well, let me tell you from first hand experience that its true. One weekend, you can feel on top of the world and the next, something can go wrong that makes you want to bury your head in the sand.

FENCE victory gallop, just over a month ago. The highs in this sport certainly are high.

FENCE victory gallop, just over a month ago. The highs in this sport certainly are high.

I prepare obsessively for competitions. I condition. I put in my time on the flat. I am constantly coming up with new jumping exercises. I go for lessons. I scrub my horse till she shines like a new penny. I clean my tack. I try to do everything by the books but sometimes things just don’t go according to plan. Recently, I had a jumping lesson with Will Coleman. He said something along the lines of: “It is important to make mistakes so you can learn and grow from them”. I am going to take this one to heart.

Fable is going to be just fine. We will live to fight another day. So here’s to half-full glasses.

Eventing is more fun, more safe and generally less stressful when you have help on the ground! I miss my crew.

Eventing is more fun, more safe and generally less stressful when you have help on the ground! I miss my crew.





“Ive Got the Power” : Morven, Aiken and FENCE

28 04 2015

Every Spring I declare that I am never, EVER going to give my wild, feral, hormonal creature the winter off again. Year after year, bringing her back into work after time off is a hazard to my physical and mental well-being. I complain, I whine, but by the time summer comes I’ve forgotten all about it and by the end of the season I decide to reward my hard-working little beastie by granting her that well-deserved down time in the field. Well let it be heard once and for all: NEVER AGAIN! This Spring Fable was particularly bad. She stepped her antics up a few notches and sealed the deal on her fate: she is just going to have to be an Aiken horse when winter comes. Tough life! 😉

Stephen Bradley Clinic and Morven

Despite Fable’s unacceptable Springtime antics, I pushed through with our plans anyway. We attended a cross-country clinic with Stephen Bradley at Pennmeryl Farm, which was enjoyable and confidence-building. On the last weekend in March, we competed at the Morven Park Spring Horse Trials at Training level so we would have a chance to shake off the rust. Let me just say that I have never in my life been so cold. I’m from NEW ENGLAND, the icy tundra of the United States, yet my hands still froze solid during my dressage test to the point of near frostbite. It was 25 degrees and windy- quite unpleasant, as you can imagine. You can also imagine that said dressage test was not our best given the circumstances. Not only could I not feel my fingers, but my body clipped pony wasn’t too pleased with the temperatures either and was understandably a bit stiff and spooky. We earned a 35, which is not our best but what can you do. On to the fun stuff! The grounds crew ended up moving the entire show jumping course into the indoor last-minute because the outdoor ring had frozen solid. We jumped around double clear despite my backwards riding, which made me glad I had entered OT instead of OP. There was definitely some rust to shake off on my part! The cross-country course was gallopy and fair. Despite all of the snow melt and rain we had leading up to the event, the footing held up quite nicely. Fable skipped around that course like it was baby novice and felt so fit that she could have run it twice. We finished in 6th place in a big division.

Absolutely frozen at Morven Park!

Absolutely frozen at Morven Park!

Aiken Vacation: Highmeadow Therapy and Sarah Morton Boot Camp!

Being a teacher has its perks, one of which is a little something called SPRING BREAK (!!!!). As soon as school let out, Fable, Maggie, Jairus and I hauled down to Aiken (FYI I have actually re-named the town of Aiken. It is now called Paradise USA) for a week of Sarah Morton boot camp. The week leading up to Aiken, though, Fable had developed a subtle, intermittent lameness, which I of course lost a lot of sleep over. The vet came out promptly, pulled her left front shoe and determined within 10 minutes the culprit: a heel bruise. Could I still bring her to Aiken? Probably. Would I have to pack and soak the foot twice a day for a week leading up to our trip? Yes. Would my extremely difficult, neurotic, hot-blooded Thoroughbred have to be trapped in a stall for a week? Unfortunately, yes. My horse lost her mind in that stall. She ran in circles. She weaved. She tore up the stall mats. She bashed her face on the metal grate on the door. She tried to bust out any time someone went in there. And worst of all, during all of this madness, she managed to drop 150 pounds and look like a skeleton seemingly overnight. But when the day finally came to ship to Aiken, I trotted her up (sound, thank god!), packed the foot once more, stuffed her bony self in the trailer and off we went!

As soon as we arrived, a wave of calm swept over Fable. She was back in her old home, in her old paddock with her old trainer and her old friends. Her old farrier, the amazing and talented Dianne Lemmon, graciously tacked her shoe back on first thing Saturday morning. You’re the best, Dianne! 🙂 While Fable sat in her paddock, quietly munching hay, the whole Highmeadow crew packed up every rig on the property and headed to the Hitchcock Woods for a hunter pace! I got to ride Lolo Pope’s horse Mackie, which was a real treat. The gallop on that creature is to die for! We all charged through the woods on that beautiful spring day and I was happy as a clam. All of the flowers were in bloom and the scent of them wafted through the woods in waves. Afterwards, we did a bit of socializing, then packed up the trucks and headed home.

Glorious weather, horses and best friends. What more could one want?

Glorious weather, horses and best friends. What more could one want?

Throughout the next week, I got lots of lessons from our fearless leader herself who was constantly reminding me to rev the engine and ride Fable with a LOT more impulsion from behind. At one point during a flat lesson, as I was struggling to achieve the perfect balance of straightness, impulsion, balance and suppleness, I suddenly felt Fable soften through her back and start to swing. At that moment, Sarah told me to ask Fable for a bit more. I did, and then my horse began to float. Her trot was so big (yet balanced) that I could barely sit to it, and her feet seemingly never touched the ground. I hadn’t felt Fable move like that in years. Reasons why we keep Sarah around! 😉

In addition to my much needed lessons, I also got to sit on several other creatures throughout the week, including my old hunt horse, Lily. When I was a working student for Sarah several years ago, Lily and I went from hill toppers to first flight together in one season. I was amazed to see how much she has grown up since yesteryear. She is super fun, athletic, absolutely stunning, and FOR SALE! See for yourself below, and contact me if interested!

Sarah and Lily in the hunt field. Lily is for sale!

Sarah and Lily in the hunt field. Lily is for sale!

My week in Aiken was jam-packed with riding and fun, dawn to dusk. We went to a concert, went line dancing, relaxed, partied, ate good food at all of my old haunts, sunbathed, met up with old friends, and of course, rode a whole lot! Cue the song, “There Are a Few of My Favorite Things”! Before long, it was all over and time for us to ship up to Landrum, SC for FENCE Horse Trials.

Hacking my old friend Sporty through the Hitchcock Woods

Hacking my old friend Sporty through the Hitchcock Woods

FENCE Horse Trials: First Prelim of 2015! 

We had a whole crew competing at FENCE. Sarah competed Womble in the Novice and Quick Silver in the Beginner Novice, Lolo ran Johnny in the Beginner Novice and I ran Fable in our first Prelim of the season. We were blessed with perfect sunshiny weather all weekend, good company and excellent competitors parties both Friday and Saturday night! I have never been to a competitors party with better food than this place. We walked our courses Friday evening. The cross-country at FENCE is literally up a mountain with virtually no portion of the course being on flat ground. It was also very short for a Prelim, being only about 2500 meters. This being the case, I knew the time would be extremely hard to make. There were several terrain questions on course and a formidable water complex that involved jumping a roll top, one stride to a big drop in with a log on top, 5 strides to a bank out. I was stressing out majorly about this water on my first walk of the course and started having flashbacks to Groton House 2014. Luckily, Sarah talked me down later when I walked it with her and told me exactly how I needed to ride it. The plan was to attack it, she said. If I did so, it would ride better than anything else on course.

That night, laying in the hotel room, I was unreasonably nervous thinking about cross-country. I lost sleep I was so nervous. I’m not sure why this happened, as I am usually not this way, but I was in a rare state. Saturday morning came eventually, and it was time for dressage. Sarah warmed us up, and Fable felt fabulous. The test was Prelim test A, which is that one in the small ring with the weird 10m circles that I hate, but Sarah and I had practiced it several times during the week and I was confident I had my geometry down. Leaving the ring, I felt as though we had absolutely nailed it. I thought that it was maybe the best test we’ve done and that finally we had earned our 29. Unfortunately, the judge didn’t think so and granted us a 36. I was shocked and disappointed but we had done our very best and not every judge is going to like your horse.

Lolo was delegated to the task of warming me up for cross-country as Sarah had to ride a dressage test at the same time. Lolo’s methods are unorthodox, very funny, and very effective. She had previously demanded that I choose a pump-up song for warmup that would inspire me to ride forward confidently without picking at my horse. After some thought, I had chosen “Let’s Go” by Matt and Kim. As I galloped around the warm-up, Lolo stood there blasting that song from her IPhone, dancing and singing like nobody was watching. Every now and then, she would emulate Sarah by shouting, “More forward! Hind end! Gallop!” My confidence built with each jump we took. Finally the time came to enter the start box. The time keeper counted down from 30, then we were off, full throttle! We attacked every fence according to plan. Fable was in full beast mode, and I felt confident with my riding. Finally, we were galloping up to the water. I did exactly as Sarah said: no pulling, just ride her up from the hind end and keep kicking and let the horse do her job! She jumped the roll top, put in a stride, and dove into the water like superwoman! The combination rode better than anything else on course, just like Sarah had predicted! We continued our way around the course going full throttle and attacking everything. We almost wiped out on the turn after fence 15, which was unexpectedly slippery. Other than that, I don’t think there was anywhere we could have made up time with the course being so short. We finished clear with some time. Later on, I found out that no one even came remotely close to making time, which made me feel better. In fact, about half the division either had falls or were eliminated.

Overnight, a song came to me while I was sleeping. It was that “I’ve Got the Power” song, probably because Sarah is obsessed with having enough power and yells at me constantly about it. I decided that that would have to be my showjumping warmup song. On Sunday morning, we were set to jump at 8am. The course had a few lines that were set on an off distance, so decision-making was key. Also, there were many big, square oxers and a triple bar. Sarah warmed us up, reminding us about having enough power the whole time. All the while, Lolo blasted “I’ve Got the Power” from her IPhone and danced on the sidelines. We all must have been quite the sight. Finally, it was our turn to go. We cantered into the ring, picked up our canter, and jumped around that course double clear, earning 2nd place overall! I was so proud of my little mare who jumped out of her skin and didn’t even come close to touching a single rail. We also earned 1st place as part of the adult team challenge, which was a great bonus!

She's the showjumping queen!

She’s the showjumping queen!

Victory gallop

Victory gallop

At the end of the day, Sarah won her division on Womble on a score of 22. How does she do it? I don’t even know! She also won her division on Quick Silver on a 23, with Lolo coming in 2nd in the same division on Johnny. The weekend couldn’t have ended more perfectly.

Team Highmeadow

Team Highmeadow

Me, Fable and our peeps

Me, Fable and our peeps

Next up is Fair Hill in May. It will be hard to adjust to not having my “peeps” there for encouragement, pump-up songs and crucial reminders to have enough power, but hopefully we will manage. Until next time! 😉