Coconino Summer 2: Splat

You know that expression “sometimes you’re the bug, and sometimes you’re the windshield”? On stadium day I was most definitely the bug. I went splat.

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I was heading into showjumping in first place, after our clear cross country. We walked the course that morning, and while there were a lot of jumps in a small space, the course wasn’t anything particularly crazy. We’ve jumped A LOT of prelim rounds by now, between schooling shows and jumper rounds and HT’s, and never had much problem. I don’t like stadium, but I tend to not lose sleep over it. I just wanted to stay on and jump the jumps in the right order.

You see where this is going, right?

Anyway, when we were walking the course, the thing I was most concerned about was the footing. It had rained a lot the afternoon before, and I was kind of shocked at how inconsistent the arena felt, and how wet the corners still were. They had sealed the surface, but not dragged it, so big clumps of mud kind of just sat all over the place. Parts of it were fine, but other parts were very squishy.

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from our Prelim schooling round a few days before, in a nice dry arena, where we had just one rail.

I assumed that it would dry up quite a bit more in the hour before we went now that the sun was out, and that they’d drag it, so I didn’t worry too much about it. Warmup was fine, and we went up to the gate with one person to go ahead of us. Said person had a very hard time turning, cruising past a few fences before getting eliminated. Hmm. That’s a little concerning from an experienced Prelim pair. That’s when I noticed that they hadn’t dragged the arena.

So I went in, picked up my canter, and immediately did not like how the footing felt in the first turn. My horse doesn’t handle mud very well at all, and you can always feel a change in him as soon as he hits it. But we cantered out of the turn, hit the dryer part in the middle, and all was well again. Henry cantered down to the first single oxer and pinged off the ground fantastically.

I had juuuust enough time to think “wow he’s jumping really well” before we got to the next corner and he started slipping. Slipping, slipping, slipping, as if in slow motion. He caught himself, slipped again, tripped, and basically fishtailed around the corner. Nothing I tried seemed to help. I briefly thought about making a circle but didn’t see anywhere to go that would be any better. He stayed on his feet, but we careened up to the next fence basically sideways and still slipping, and he tried his best to jump it anyway. I went waaaaaay up in the air and then straight into the ground. Just like that – rider fall.

So… that sucked. I got up and walked out with him, but poor Henry was definitely a bit rattled that I had come off. They always escort you to the medic after a fall, and when I walked away, leaving Henry with Hillary and my trainer, he got very concerned about why I was leaving and where I was going. We found the EMT (who was asleep in his backseat), he asked me if I was okay, I said yes I landed on my hip in the mud, and he told me to come back if I started feeling bad. Henry was physically okay, thank god, but it took him a couple hours to return to his normal personality. He was clearly rattled by the whole thing.

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The footing in warmup was really nice, at least.

I was disappointed for our show to end that way, mostly because the first two phases were so great. I thought my horse really deserved the completion, and to have something so ridiculous happen was a bummer. However… that’s horse showing. Especially eventing. Sometimes things go your way, and sometimes they don’t. Should they have dragged the arena earlier? Yes. They stopped and dragged after my division, and the footing was much improved. But I know they did what they thought was the right thing at the time (new footing was just put into this arena recently and they really weren’t sure the best thing to do with it when it was wet)… it just didn’t work out in my favor. The horses with a more up and down, slower-legged way of going didn’t have too much problem with it, but the flatter-moving, faster-legged horses seemed to really struggle to find purchase and jump out of it. Mine wasn’t the only one.

While it was disappointing to miss out on the win (although to be fair, no one finished Prelim, soooo), I can’t be too upset. My horse was just so good the whole time, and we learned a lot, and grew our confidence a ton. The pieces are slowly coming together. The way it ended in no way takes away from everything else, and I was still smiling about that XC round. Maybe next year we can go back and seek redemption, but for now, I’m not too worried about it. Coconino was still a major success in my book, and remains one of my favorite shows. We had a great time!

Coconino Summer 2: Cross Country

I’m not really even sure how to start this recap post. Henry gave me what can only be described as the ride of my life on cross country that day, and I’m struggling to find the words to describe it. Was it foot perfect? No. There were a couple spots where I messed up, and he saved it, and there were a couple spots where he didn’t quite get it, and I helped him out. He was bold, he was focused, he was looking for the flags and taking me to the jumps… it felt like a real partnership, and I was sitting on a really confident horse that was absolutely on fire for his job. I’m not sure that it gets much better than that.

His face… my face… all the rubber duckies… it’s classic. PC: Dusty Brown

They changed the course a bit after week 1, particularly the second water and a new coffin. Yeah… they built a new coffin. As in, they were still digging the (massive) hole for the ditch the night before XC. The changes made those questions more challenging than they’d been the first week, and I was a little concerned about both, since they ended up being questions that Henry and I hadn’t quite seen before.

I’ll be honest, when I walked the course beforehand, I didn’t have the balls to look all the jumps in the eye. Some of them were really big, and I had to shield my eyes a bit when I walked past a few. There are some things I just don’t need to know before I mount up. It took me a while to be able to look the Training fences “in the eye” on the ground too, and I’m not quite there yet with some of the Prelim. Everything looks so much smaller and more doable from the back of a horse as you’re galloping towards it.

Case in point, this looked really small when we were galloping down to it, but it was actually wide AF

But I did go back out there that afternoon with Hillary and make myself look at them, especially the width. It’s a confidence boost to know how easily Henry hopped over them, even if they still look big to me. I took pictures of some of the jumps then, too, since I hadn’t done my usual course walk with pictures before. And I think that worked out for the best, because I got to use Hillary and her dogs for scale, which was fun. Especially since her face in most of these pictures looks horrified.

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Fence 3, coming down the hill, was a trakehner with a drop on the landing side
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6AB, the first water, a hanging log on the mound in the water with a bending line to a brushy coop out
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I still hate this thing, it’s disgusting
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The first corner combo on course had a tricky approach but was small and relatively friendly. Corner, down the hill, back up the hill to the green coop ahead. Had a little bit of a sunken road effect.
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The next corner combo was the second water, which had a very weird and short approach to the upright vertical in, and then a corner out. Thanks to the random bird for posing.
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Pretty sure this is the biggest and skinniest corner we’ve seen so far, especially on a bending line out of water.
I couldn’t even come close to looking at this thing on the course walk, jesus christ it was massive. I couldn’t reach across the top of it.
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And the back had a downhill landing so it was even worse #nightmarefuel
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Bending line of wide skinny tables (you can see the B in the background). By this point these seemed small.
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The brand new (literally hours-old) coffin combination, coming downhill to the big hanging log in, one stride to a big ditch, and then 3 bending strides to the skinny that you can see off to the left behind the tree
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A better look at the skinny out, with it’s little mound of mulch and obligatory sprig of brush in front of it
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The last combo on course, the Normandy Bank. Upbank, one stride, skinny log.

That was most of the more interesting jumps, anyway. Well except for the one big gross log oxer in the back that I was too lazy to walk back out to for a photo.

The footing at Coconino is interesting, being mostly wood chips. It’s not like anything else we ever run on, especially around here. You’re never quite sure how it’s going to feel to jump out of, but it felt pretty good under my horse’s feet once we got going. You do spend some time on your course walks very carefully plotting your course to avoid stray stumps or rocky patches, but they’ve done a lot with the footing since I was there last in 2016.

I didn’t wear a watch, mostly because we just aren’t to the point yet where time is a consideration. We still need to focus on the jumps first and foremost, and I don’t want to find myself worrying or feeling pressured about the time. It’s a distraction I don’t need yet. Especially for this course, which was definitely the most challenging we’ve faced, and very twisty and turny and up and down. I needed to focus on balance, not speed.

My helmet camera died the second I turned it on, so… I don’t have footage from that perspective. I did have barnmates scattered throughout the course though, so got a decent amount of video!

Henry set off from the box like a man on a mission, landing from fence 1 and digging in, already wanting to go forward and searching for 2. It was at this point that I thought to myself “this might be just fine after all”. When a horse leaves the box like that, it definitely boosts your confidence a bit. He pinged over the trakehner at 3, jumping HUGE over it and landing in a gallop that was pulling me up the hill to the coop at 4, then back down the hill to the wagon, which he also jumped the shit out of. Yup, he was definitely in the mood to play.

I checked my whoa before the water at 6, wanting to make sure he didn’t just blast through there. It was the first combo and I wanted to ride it a bit quietly, since we had many more combos to go and I needed him to stay rideable. He was really good there, hopping through it politely and easily.

murdering rubber duckies without a care in the world

Then it was down to the Weldon’s Wall, which had a really wonky approach. Nothing like weaving through trees and then having to turn sharply a few strides before a wide gallop fence. I completely botched the distance there, 110% awful, but Henry just stuffed another stride in and packed my ass right over. There are not enough cookies in the world for this creature, y’all. He earned a whole box of them at that jump alone.

After that was our wide skinny table

which he galloped right up to the base of and pinged over like it was Beginner Novice. This horse has more scope than I give him credit for, I think.

Then we weaved around to our first corner combination at 9AB. The jumps there were not that big, at or close to Training height really, but the approach made the line pretty tricky. You came off of a very long gallop, then had to hang a sharp right hand turn around some trees with just a few straight strides before the corner. Week 1 I watched someone have two runouts here because the horse didn’t get his eye on the corner out of the turn, so I knew I needed to take it seriously. I brought Henry waaaaaay back down to a showjump canter and carefully picked my line to make sure we were straight.

I was slow AF, but it rode great

As soon as he got his eye on the corner he took me right to it, then down and back up the hill to the coop. It was no problem. After that we had a long gallop to a skinny cabin and then a smaller brush fence (which I again missed the distance to and Henry was like “hold my beer”. Get him more cookies.) before heading down to the second water. Of all the things on course, I was most nervous about this and the coffin. The water because the approach to the first jump was SO SHORT, you literally had two straight strides off a sharp turn for them to even see the jump in, and I definitely wasn’t sure that he would get his eye on the corner out. There were a lot of jumps back there, it was visually quite busy, and we’ve never done a corner out of water before. I rode the first element slightly right so I could exaggerate the bend a little bit and get him straighter to the corner, and it rode freaking brilliantly.

Like… he was foot perfect. He saw the corner as soon as we jumped in, and he locked right on, never wavering from the line. It was a pretty amazing feeling, and I hope I never forget how that felt. I could have stopped and gone home right then and there and felt like we’d won. There is nothing so thrilling to me as feeling a horse come into his own and really love and understand the job. I rode away from that water with a smile on my face.

Galloping away from the water like the badass bitch that he is. PC: Dusty Brown

But I didn’t really have a lot of time to think about it, in the moment, because we had a gallop up the hill to that big disgusting vomit-inducing double brush table. That thing did not look any smaller from horseback, but I just kept coming to the base and let Henry sort it out, which he did perfectly, while I tried to stay out of his way. He jumped it so freaking hard, I don’t even think he touched the brush. More cookies. So many piles of cookies. I had to settle for lots of big pats at the time.

nbd, just jumping actual mountains out here

After that we had the combination of skinny tables, which also rode really well. Easy, by this point. He just kept looking for the flags, and all I really had to do was guide the way and keep him balanced.

Then it was the big oxer out in the back, which you can’t really see behind the tree.

And then it was time for the coffin. I distinctly remember galloping to the crest of that hill and starting our downhill approach, thinking to myself “Do not fuck this up. Do not fuck this up. Do not fuck this up.”. Our fall at Holly Hill was at a downhill coffin, and I really didn’t want to repeat that. I heard my trainers instructions in my head – balance at the top of the hill, then keep coming – so I did… then I rode down to that thing and attacked it like it had personally done something to me.

Henry jumped the hanging log in and I could feel him quickly assessing, looking for the out. I gave him a bit of verbal encouragement over the ditch, where he was still trying to figure out where the out was. I had to sit and tug a little, but he finally locked on and hopped over C. It was a bit scrappy but we got it done.

I found out later that a barnmate’s husband was down at the coffin helping the course designer rake the landing of the ditch after each horse, and when I jumped through, the course designer said “that’s the way it’s SUPPOSED to be ridden!”. Which was a really nice compliment to get. He stopped what he was doing to watch us go up the hill and jump the Normandy Bank, too (which felt more like a little gymnastic by this point).

After that we flew over the last rolltop and through the finish flags with a clear round! I was slow, as expected, so picked up 10 time faults, but we were the only Prelim pair to jump around clear. The second water and the coffin wreaked some havoc.

As promised, he earned LOTS of cookies

I can’t even put into words how proud I am of this horse. He tried so hard for me, was absolutely brilliant, so genuine, and really rose to the challenge. He jumped some big fences and challenging combinations without so much as a second thought, and any lingering doubts I had beforehand about our ability to do this were completely erased. I still have to pinch myself a bit when I stop and think about what we’re doing, actually DOING, and how it so vastly exceeds anything I thought we could ever achieve. It doesn’t seem real. This kind of partnership is what it’s all about, and these moments are the reason why we keep putting in the work, day in and day out. I’ll be riding that high for a long time.

Coconino Summer 2: Dressage

I’m gonna be honest y’all, I think I was dreading dressage more than any other phase, for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, it was Prelim Test B, which we had never ridden before, and it’s a lot different from Prelim Test A. The biggest change is that it’s in the long court, which… I haven’t even BEEN in a long court in over a year. I sat there forever trying to remember where all the letters were and wrapping my brain around where the boundaries of all my figures would be in the larger space. Am I a redneck eventer that does 99% of her dressage in a field? YES.

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DA FUQ are all those letters?

Second, this test has a lot of canter work and it all comes quite early in the test. Henry is one that tends to get more tense and ultra-sensitive after he canters, and thinks that pretty much any leg aid after that means he should canter again. His canter work also is not generally as good as his trot work, so having half of the movements involving canter was going to be a disadvantage, score-wise. I knew I would have my work cut out for me when it came to keeping his brain in, I was just hoping the test would err more towards the side of tense rather than complete meltdown.

Third, they moved the location of the ring at the last minute. Considering it took me 4 days of riding him in the first location for him to finally relax, I was not particularly pumped about that. Originally all of the arenas were on the racetrack, and I took him out there every day usually twice a day, walking and trotting quietly and getting him to stretch and chill. It worked great, and eventually he gave me some stellar work out there. But… it took me days to get there, so I was sad that the ring moved. It’s always fun trying to dressage an OTTB at Coconino. Great way to gauge just how much post-racing PTSD they really have, if you’re into that kind of thing.

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Would rather eat PB&J than do dressage

I also found out that our judge was Peter Gray, who is one of my favorites, but he’s also not one to just throw pity points at you. Peter has an eagle eye, being an FEI judge, and he scores appropriately. He’s very proper and correct and professional and by-the-book. Given all of this, I was mostly just hoping that I could remember my test, not mess up the geometry too badly, keep the lid on my horse, and maaaaaaybe score under a 40. That seemed like a big enough ask, all things considered.

My test wasn’t until 10:30 on Thursday, which gave me plenty of time to do a pre-ride that morning. This is a strategy we discovered last summer at Chatt, but I wasn’t able to use at any of our Prelims so far since I’ve had crack-of-dawn dressage rides. This time I was on Henry early and headed down to the track, which is when I discovered that they had moved our dressage arena from the place we’d finally become well-acquainted with, to where they’d previously had showjumping warmup. Naturally, this turned my horse (who will jump some really gnarly shit without batting an eye, I would like to point out) into a snorting idiot again. When I got down there they had just finished dragging, and the gate was open, so we went in and walked and trotted around, figuring out all my letters and geometry until Henry decided he was okay. He wasn’t quite as chill as he’d been in the old location, but he did eventually take a deep breath and relax.

I did a relatively short warm-up before the test itself, mostly just trying to get his brain as firmly attached as I could. Lots of changes of direction and leg yields at the trot, and going back and forth from stretching to working. He felt pretty good, and I went down to the ring hoping I could keep him together.

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Does not understand why we have to halt more now. Would like to file a formal protest.

They honked the horn right when I was completely opposite of where I wanted to enter from, so I ended up doing a half-loop back around the end of the arena to get the approach I wanted off of the right. Remember this, it’ll matter later.

We went up centerline nice and straight and forward, garnering an 8 to start us off. This is something I practice a lot (along with the final halt) because I feel like it’s one of those movements that you can always get a good score on, no matter what else is happening. The rest of our test may vary in quality, but our entry is usually good, and this one was no different even though C seemed approximately 15 miles away. From there we went straight to the lengthening, which I got a little greedy about and Henry almost broke (Peter politely said it was “losing rhythm”) so I had to dial it back down. Oh well, I went for it.

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Werk that arab tail

After that it was up centerline to the leg yield right (our weaker direction, but still good enough for an 8), then straight into the canter work. Our first medium circle was… not much of a medium. His tail started spinning and the hind end felt a little bit light, so I backed off. Sometimes I can push for it, sometimes I can’t, and this time was a can’t. After that we went into the first counter canter loop, where my main focus was keeping him from doing a flying change. That’s his favorite “not called for” (as one judge put it) maneuver to throw into his dressage tests… which he may or may not have done three times in the past year. Anyway, my geometry was a little bit off, but we did the loop and kept the lead, so I’ll take it. From there it was on to the movement I dreaded the most, the simple change across the diagonal.

To know why I dreaded it the most, you need to know a little about Henry. He’s a horse that tries really hard… almost too hard. Despite his bad boy persona, he wants very badly to be the goodest boy, and he can get pretty upset if he thinks he’s made a mistake. And what’s one of the things that makes him think he’s made a mistake? Rapid fire transitions. Especially to and from canter. He tends to LEAP back into canter and stiffen his back completely, overreacting to any bit of leg. Despite spending years working on this, they can still make him have a complete and total come-apart quicker than just about anything else. So we came across the diagonal, I sent up a silent prayer to the horse gods, and…

he was fantastic. 7.5! I wanted to chuck the reins at him and give him a huge pat right there, but… ya know… middle of dressage test decorum… so I settled with reaching down and scratching his neck with my inside hand. He immediately took a deep breath, and we went on to the next movement.

The medium canter this direction was about the same as the first. Not much of a medium, but a little effort. The counter canter loop was about the same too – not the most correct geometry, but we kept the lead and he didn’t get stuck. Then we came across the diagonal again and went back to trot at X, and as I expected, he kind of spent the rest of the test thinking we were going to canter again. We lost some of the relaxation and flow that we’d had before. The movements all happened like they were supposed to – we halted, did our reinback, free walked, etc – but it was all just a bit “on edge”. He really wanted to go back to canter, but tried so hard to be obedient. I kept reaching down and quickly touching his neck to reassure him that he was good, and he stayed with me.

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We did have a bigger bobble when we went back to trot from the walk and turned up centerline to leg yield the other way. He took one canter step right before we turned, which is unfortunate because that turn is tied together with the leg yield (see box 17 on the test). The leg yield itself was quite good, better than the first one, but the canter step in the turn meant that the whole movement got knocked down to a 4. Womp womp.

After that we just had the stretchy trot serpentine (which about blew my brain trying to figure out THAT geometry on the fly) and up centerline to our final halt, which got another 8. So we started and ended with 8’s, and had a range of scores in between. I completely agreed with all of the comments (god, you really cannot get anything past Peter), and the scores were fair. He had some brilliant moments, and some less brilliant moments, so it was a just a bit inconsistent. We ended with a 32.9, which I was really quite pleased with. Considering I thought there was a lot of room for improvement, I can’t complain about that score. It was right there with other horses who are more experienced and much fancier than we are.

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One minor detail… remember how I said I had to meander around a bit to get the approach I wanted into the ring? Well, that put me a few seconds late entering the arena. And you know who really watches that clock? Peter. So I got an error for entering late, which brought the final score to 33.8. Whoops.

I was proud of Henry though, he tried his little heart out and was really good, definitely exceeding any expectations I had for dressage. I know how hard this test was for him mentally and I was thrilled that I was able to keep him with me and keep his brain intact from start to finish. He showed a lot of maturity.

And the best part? The next phase was CROSS COUNTRY, something we were both a lot more excited about!

We’re home!

Boy, I really left y’all hanging there didn’t I? I fully intended to come back and write another couple update posts while we were still at Coconino, but to be totally honest I was having a really good time immersing myself in my horse life and enjoying my showcation, and I decided to take advantage of the break. My mental health really required that I just decompress for a bit and let everything else fall away, so I did.

In short, Coconino was fantastic. Flagstaff is so beautiful, the weather is so nice (the locals thought it was hot – LOL), and it was really great to put everything else in my life aside for a while and just have fun with Henry. Every time I think I can’t possibly love that horse any more than I already do, he gives me even more of himself. It’s incredibly humbling to feel how hard he tries for me and how much he loves his job. I will get into the show recap in subsequent posts, but he gave me the absolute ride of my life on cross country, and it’s one I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

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In between the first and second show, we snuck an afternoon away for non-horsey things. We drove down the mountains to the city of Sedona, did some touristy things, ate some food, and enjoyed the down time. It’s amazing how a short 40 minute drive brings a complete change in the scenery. I’m not generally a lover of the Southwest or the desert, but you have to admit that Arizona is beautiful.

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On Wednesday I did a schooling jumper round, because it had been a while since we’d jumped a course. Henry was WILD but went in there with his tail on fire and had quite a good time. I think after the first week he was wondering exactly WTF we were doing here, since he hadn’t shown yet. That whole first week I rode him twice a day, one quiet stretchy hack and one actual ride, generally flat work since he was a complete IDIOT out there on the track for those first several days. I was definitely glad I’d chosen not to show week 1 and let him settle in, and he did finally relax, but boy he was glad to see some jumps after all that dressage.

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from our Prelim schooling round

Henry likes to put up a grumpy, detached persona, but I think he enjoyed having extra attention. He let his derpy personality hang out and made some new friends, which garnered him lots of extra treats throughout the two weeks. I was worried that he’d be a lunatic about Dobby, since they’re turned out together at home and trailered to Coconino together, but we put them on opposite sides of the aisle with some trailers in between that blocked the line of sight, and they settled after the first few minutes. It ended up not being a problem the whole time, which was a big relief. I bedded his stall deep, gave him an endless buffet of hay, and he was pretty happy with his horse show life.

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a teeny bit of supplement powder left on the bottom of your bucket? No problem, Henry will clean that up for you free of charge.

Aside from horse time, there was also a lot of good quality Horse-Friend time. Our group was huge, with 19 horses, and we had a little compound of trailers where most of us were camping. It’s really a fantastic group of people, everyone is super supportive of each other and genuinely helpful and kind. Sometimes it’s hard to find that, especially in a group that ranges in age from teenagers to grandmothers, and in experience from Beginner Novice to Advanced, but somehow with these folks it just works.

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The Texas girls got cold on that rainy afternoon

While the show didn’t end the way I wanted (spoiler alert), I still came away with a whole new level of confidence. This sport is hard, especially when we start challenging ourselves and pushing the limits. Sometimes things go our way and sometimes they don’t. Regardless of that, we had some really monumental moments and some big breakthroughs. Before Coconino I was 70% sure that we could actually do Prelim, but now I’m sitting at 100%. The lingering doubt is gone and I know for sure that we can do this. I’m sitting on a brilliant horse.

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find a coach who meets you at the finish like this

Amidst all that time with like-minded friends, there were some conversations about what success really means, what it looks like for different people, and how expectations change and evolve as we move through life. I had plenty of time for quiet introspection, hacking through the woods every morning, and I found myself reflecting on the last time we were at Coconino in 2016 – who I was then and what I thought I wanted. Everything is so very different now, including me. I’ve had a pretty massive change in perspective and mindset. If you’d told my 2016 self (who cared so much about placings and scores and qualifications) that we’d be back in 2019 at Prelim, and have one of the best shows of our lives despite not finishing, I never would have believed you. Things are so very different.

The Weldon’s Wall that has lived in my mind for years as tangible evidence of things we can’t do or a rider I can’t be… we conquered that shit without a problem. I made a figurative mountain out of that thing and my horse hopped right over it like it was nothing. What other limitations have I been putting on us for no reason? What else am I allowing to occupy a larger-than-life space in my mind?

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Using Hillary for scale became one of my new favorite things

While some things about it are definitely still a work in progress, and it’s certainly not fancy, Coconino is a great show and hopefully we’ll be back next year to give it another go. There’s something about Flagstaff that just manages to anchor itself to my soul. Maybe it’s the cold quiet mornings, or the sound of the wind whistling through the pines, or how you can look up and see so many stars in that big dark northern Arizona sky. Maybe it’s just the fact that I can go there and strip bare of everything except the equestrian part of me. No work, no personal life, no worries, just me and the best horse I’ve ever had. Whatever it is, it’s magical. I feel better today than I have in a long time. Recharged and ready to look ahead at what’s next.

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The boys traveled well, eating and drinking a lot (they downed their whole water buckets on that last Texas leg when it got really hot – I think the horses will miss the Flagstaff weather, too!) and settled right back in at home. They were super happy to get back to turnout last night, and I have no doubt that Henry will be napping hard in his stall this morning. He is looking forward to his summer break, I’m sure. Oh – and Presto grew a foot while I was gone.

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Pretty sure he was telling Dobby that he’s excited they get to go to FEH Champs together

Stay tuned for the actual show recap once I can get myself and some media organized!

Coconino Days 1-5

Well that was probably the longest break I’ve taken from the blog in years, but I was too busy enjoying my vacation from real life. It’s been ridiculously nice. The cool mountain air, 24/7 pony time, and hanging out with cool horse people all day… it’s what my soul needed, in a big way. As I’m typing this post it’s 47 degrees and I’m sitting in front of Henry’s stall listening to him munch his hay.

At 6:30am on a Friday I would usually be sitting at my desk at work. This was way better.

The drive was delightfully uneventful. We broke up the 17 hour drive into two days, put on a podcast, and it really wasn’t bad at all. Both boys hauled great, ate and drank a lot, and got to stretch their legs at our layover location. They came off the trailer looking fresh and happy and feeling really good.

Dobby is learning how to beg for cookies at the rest stops

We arrived on the 4th in the early afternoon, got the boys settled, and did an easy ride to stretch their legs. My original plan for the first week was to do some jumper rounds and a schooling dressage test on Friday before the show started, but due to a high number of entries they only offered jumper rounds through Novice and only had a short court set up for dressage. So… those things didn’t happen. I didn’t really mind though, because Henry was kinda wild and spooky those first few days. I got on him twice a day and he still didn’t finally stop spooking at the dressage letters and tents (and bushes and trees and rocks and stumps and squirrels and…) until yesterday. At Coconino the dressage courts are set up in the racetrack, which can definitely make it a little tougher for the OTTB’s. They ain’t dumb, they remember what a track is. One morning I got on and ended up just cantering for 20 minutes straight until he finally relaxed and took a deep breath. That seemed to be what he needed, and he’s felt better and better as he’s settled in.

We have a lot of people and horses in our group so it’s not as if I was lacking things to do, even if I wasn’t showing. I would hack early in the morning, help and spectate all day, and then ride again in the afternoon. It’s been busy, and really fun to watch and cheer on my barnmates without the stress of showing myself. I’ve enjoyed it a lot. I’m delighted just to be here, no matter what I’m doing.

I also get texted pictures like this, when Henry cons our neighbor Julie into giving him cookies

Yesterday after the show was over they opened the course briefly for XC schooling, so we headed out with a group. I really just wanted to jump a few things to get us dialed back in to the XC ride, but we ended up jumping a lot of the Prelim stuff. Including the giant gross Weldon’s wall that I hate with every fiber of my being. If someone burns it down, it wasn’t me. But Henry was FANTASTIC, just locking on to everything like a machine. He didn’t even blink at the Weldon’s, or the skinnies, or the coffin, or the water combinations. Even when he tripped in the ditch of the coffin he never took his eye off of the skinny out. He just felt absolutely amazing and really happy to finally be doing something he thinks is fun.

So, after that we had a discussion about changing my entry. Originally I had entered Training, but switched to PT last week when I saw that they were offering it. After yesterday’s school Trainer said that she thought another Training would kinda be a waste of his legs at this point, and she’d rather see me challenge myself at Prelim than just hop around another Training. After how he felt yesterday, I have to say that I agree. He’s on fire, and he’s ready for the harder and bigger stuff. It felt like we could have done anything. So last night I switched my entry to Prelim. This poor secretary, I am so annoying.

Today is a day off, we’re taking everyone on a walk hack this morning and then the humans are headed off to do some hiking and sightseeing. Tomorrow, back to work!

Day Zero

Y’all, I made it. The last day of work before we leave for Coconino tomorrow. I’m so delighted, I’ve already planned how I’m going to make my exit this afternoon.

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Like this.

It’s been a stressful couple months. Work has been crazy, and I’ve recently taken on more responsibility, which has just magnified the stress. I’m not a particularly anxious person, so I deal with it pretty well (ie I stuff it deep down inside where it can fester forever), but still… I need a break. Will everything be on fire when I get back? Probably. Will it take me weeks to fix it? Probably. Do I care right now? Not a damn bit.

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I am so ready for cooler temps, lower humidity, the smell of pine trees permeating the air, 10 days of nothing but poniesponiesponies, and hanging out with all my best horse peeps. The horse show aspect hasn’t even registered. I don’t even care about that.

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It is a thing of beauty. I will take 20% humidity, please and thank you.

Of course, it is still a horse show so I still have to pack all that crap. You will be delighted to know that, true to form, I haven’t packed anything yet. Because that’s who I am as a person.

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But I did laundry last night, so that’s step 1. Go me. This afternoon I’ll pack the trailer, and tonight I’ll pack all my own stuff. I’m pretty excited to be pulling Henry’s blanket and my jackets and vests back out, not gonna lie. Bring on the 40 degree mornings, Flagstaff. I’m so ready for this trip that I’m not even stressed about it, or any of the logistics of our 16 hour drive. I just want to put my best bud in the trailer and hit the highway headed west.

I have done one thing so far, in that I dyed and cleaned up Henry’s tail. It’s been a long time since I dyed it and it was back in it’s natural rust-streaked state, so now it’s black again. Or “Brown Black”. Thanks Clairol.

If this doesn’t make your heart go pitter-patter, we can’t be friends.

Actually, I’ve done 2 things. I downloaded 8 new books to my Kindle so that I’ll have reading material while we’re there. Priorities, ya know?

As always when I leave for more than a few days, I’m going to miss Presto. He will probably be delighted though, just eating and sleeping. I know that he’s in great hands, so I’m not as nervous being gone as I have been in the past. The barn owner actually takes better care of him than I do, I think. She was relatively horrified that he went to his FEH show a little ribby and covered in bite marks (I mean, he’s 2…), and now that he’s qualified for championships she’s made it her own personal pet project to make him beautiful before then.

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I gave up on caring about this horse’s missing chunks of hair somewhere around month 2 of his life, but she is going to town with the coconut oil. By the time she’s done he looks like an appaloosa. He’s also spending like 20 hours a day eyeball deep in hay, which I have zero complaints about. Of course, he just keeps growing up, not out. This growth spurt has to end eventually though, right?

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We’re planning on leaving as the sun is coming up tomorrow morning, so we can get to our layover location before the worst heat of the day. Just like our last trip to Coco, we’re staying with Bobby’s husband’s parents again at their farm in New Mexico. I will try to post regular updates from the road, as long as my WordPress app will allow. I’m not taking my computer and I won’t have WiFi (my heart just cackled in glee at both of those things), but I’ll do my best.

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Human Fountain

On Friday I took off work early so we could head up to Willow Draw for one last XC school before Coconino. It’s a 4 hour drive, and it’s hot, so we decided to drive up on Friday, school on Saturday morning, and then drive home. That makes it slightly less awful. We got there Friday evening, rode the horses for all of 10 minutes (lord, the humidity), went to get food, and then went to bed.

staring out towards the start box, as one does

On Saturday morning all started out normal. I got up, fed the horses, changed, and started prepping all my stuff. Then my stomach started hurting. Then I found myself in the bathroom 3 times in the span of an hour. I wasn’t sure what was happening but I realized my stomach was not happy. I swung up on my horse just hoping I wouldn’t have to make an emergency run for the bushes while we were riding. I dunno what’s up with me lately but the last 3 times I’ve seen Trainer, I’ve been either sick or injured. Maybe it’s her. (just kidding… maybe…)

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Stop it.

Henry was On Fire with a wild hair up his butt, very happy to be back out in his element. We had to have a couple of discussions about who’s actually in charge of the speed at which we travel and where we leave the ground. He was super game though, definitely his normal self, which is a relief since I tried to kill us at our last XC schooling and I was worried it might affect his confidence. Yeah, no. Zero percent. He was balls to the wall and very delighted to be there.

We didn’t do a whole lot, no need to jump his legs off right before a long trip, we just wanted to get him listening and balanced and get our heads back into the XC game. Rideability was the focus. By the midway point of the school I started feeling like I might puke, but I managed to hold it together until the end. Something was definitely up. By this point I was in what could only be called severe gastric distress, I just wasn’t sure which end was ultimately going to suffer most. You know what makes for a really long drive home? Someone who has to stop at regular intervals to become a human fountain. It was horrific. Indescribably bad. I had Satan inside of me.

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We eventually made it back to the barn late afternoon, got the horses unloaded, and then I started driving home. At which point I became concerned I wouldn’t actually make it before Satan made another appearance. I had the pedal to the metal, white-knuckling the steering wheel. By the time I Toyko-drifted into my neighborhood I was sweating profusely. My normally 40 minute drive took 33 minutes. Y’all, this was one of the most distressed times of my life. I made it to the bathroom, but barely. The neighbor was outside when I came screeching into my driveway and made a mad dash for the house, so I don’t know what he thinks but either way he’s probably right.

By that point I was definitely convinced I had food poisoning, and I capped off my delightful day by puking 6 times in half an hour. That seemed to finally do the trick though, or just managed to empty me out so completely that there was nothing left for my body to be angry about. Either way, it was a sweet relief. I spent yesterday rehydrating and ate some soup, all of which stayed down just fine. My appetite isn’t back to 100%, but the human fountain episodes are gone, so all seems to be well now. Talk about some really freaking great timing though. Lord.

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So that was… a fun… experience.

But Henry feels great, and he looks great, and despite spending 8 hours in a trailer and plus an XC school all within 24 hours he was still apparently wild enough to run laps in turnout that evening while Presto and Dobby buried their heads in the round bale. I jokingly told the vet that maybe he put in too much hock juice. I’m totally okay with it though, I like it when he feels good, even if it means he’s extra sassy.

And now, let the packing commence. 2 more work days until I’m free!

Da Real (Summer) MVP

My facebook memories popped up the other day with a picture of Henry from this time last year. The year all the hair fell out of his face. The year I took a literal bald-faced horse to Chatt.

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How did this happen? Ah yes, let me explain.

See, I’m not always very good at being an adult human. I tend to be forgetful, especially when it comes to “errands”, to the point where if I don’t write it down somewhere there’s like a 5% chance of me remembering. One day I went to Walmart THREE TIMES because every time I went in I got distracted and bought other things I didn’t need, but not the one thing I did need (batteries. how hard is it to remember batteries?).

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Thank goodness for the internet, which is my saving grace most of the time. I have a thought – “oh I need this” – and then I go order it.

Unless I don’t. Like if I have that thought in a meeting or while I’m driving and it completely exits my brain before I have a chance to jump online and place the order. That has definitely happened more than once. Which is how I’ve found myself needing bell boots for like a month now and have yet to order any, but if I order them now they won’t come before I leave for Coconino anyway so whatever.

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Last year the thing I forgot to order was Henry’s tea tree spray. He’s really prone to skin funk, and a few years ago (after trying what felt like every other skin product on the market) I finally tried this stuff. It was magic. It’s the only thing that has ever kept all of his funk at bay during the summer.

But last year I ran out a week or two before Chatt, totally forgot to order more, and then traveled to the land of constant humidity and fungus. Henry’s face, which had already started to look bad in the days before we left, quickly turned to looking terrible. I tried a random tea tree spray (meant for dogs) that I found at a Walmart, thinking maybe it was just the tea tree factor that he needed, but over the course of a couple days it did nothing to slow the spread. I happened to have a sample size of Equiderma with me, so I tried that too, and I guess that was the final straw because by the next day all his hair had just… fallen out. I told you he was delicate.

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I learned my lesson. Henry simply cannot Summer without his fancy tea tree spray and I really shouldn’t bother trying anything else, nor can I forget to order it. Now I order a new bottle as soon as the current one is half empty, because I’m not risking that again. I spray his cannons and his face daily, and if any other areas start to look suspicious, they get zapped too.

Looking at those pictures from last year really brought it home. God he looked TERRIBLE. Like a sad homeless horse that no one loved. Gah. Of course, the weather here this year has been super humid and sticky, the worst conditions for his skin. So what’s he looking like this summer, with daily use of his tea tree spray?

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All facial hair is in place

I’m telling you, man, this stuff must have unicorn tears in it or something. I don’t know what kind of magic they’re bottling but I’m gonna keep buying it.

What products can you not live without in the summer?

Blog Hop: Perfect Match

I guess my brain is just stuck in the breeding groove this week but I found myself sitting here thinking “if I could have any mare in the world, who would it be, and who would I breed her to”? Admittedly, I do this probably at least once a year. I’m a weirdo like that. It’s kinda like that classic “what’s your dream horse” question, but with another layer of critical thinking, because now you have to come up with the recipe, not just the end result.

So here are the rules: if you were breeding for yourself, a horse that you would keep and raise and eventually ride – what parents would you pick? Preferably something well known, since that makes it more fun, but hey… go wild.

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I believe very strongly that the most important part of the breeding equation is the mare. I also know that if I was breeding for something for me to keep and ride myself, I’d pick different crosses than I would if I was breeding to sell/for 5* level. So I’ll start with the mares. Yes plural, because I have 2 that I can’t pick between: Classic Moet and Fischerrocana. They are a bit similar in that neither of them is particularly remarkable or flashy. They’re both plain, they’re both average movers and jumpers (ie something I could actually stand a chance of being able to ride), and they both have a lot of thoroughbred blood. But what they also both have is rideability, trainability, grit, and a lot of heart. The description of Classic Moet on Janelle Price’s website is enough to seal the deal for me:

Molly would, if she were a person, come from Swindon ( Or West Auckland for our NZ followers), be a couple of stone overweight, have several tattoos, wear a too tight leather jacket over skintight leopard skin pants and have a boyfriend with an IQ of 10 who is a club bouncer and 4 children by 4 different fathers. Molly is a legend but a kind of rock and roll one like Mick Jagger as opposed to the Princess type! 

I mean.

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I’ll take one to go

And since, in this particular fantasy, I’m breeding for something to keep for myself, that means I’m not looking to make a 5* horse. I’m looking for something that can forgive mistakes, get me out of trouble, and is always forward-thinking and looking for the flags. Something with 3* talent, with cross country as it’s strongest phase because I don’t want to die.

For Classic Moet, I’m thinking Irish. Classic Moet has a bit of an odd jumping style, so I’m going to stick with one that produces more conventional horses stylistically, and one who’s offspring seem to be pretty rideable on the flat. I’m also gonna go for the weird color, and I generally DETEST breeding for color as a general rule but this is one I would pick even if he was plain bay. Tullabeg Fusion is also about half TB, so I’d still have a horse with a lot of blood.

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And since I’m in charge here in this fantasy, I’m gonna go ahead and say that the resulting foal looks like this

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and grows up to jump like this

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and have Classic Moet’s bad bitch mentality.

Fischerrocana is a really fun one, too. She’s more conventional than Classic Moet, with a bit less thoroughbred blood. I love that she seems like she would absolutely turn herself inside out for her rider – those are the best kind of horses, especially when it’s a mare.

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Again, if I was breeding her for 5* I would make a different choice, but since we’re still playing by the rules of “something I have to be able to ride”, I’m going to go with my favorite boy Mighty Magic. Y’all know I’m biased, and he produces really good cross country horses. They’re just my type, from goofy temperament to how they’re built. He should add a little size, and it might end up a little chunky, but it should also be a heat-seeking missile for cross country fences and happy to jump them with or without my assistance.

Naturally, it’s gonna look like this:

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Interestingly, Classic Moet has already had an Upsilon foal (via ET), an excellent choice for 5* IMO, and one that I probably wouldn’t have a chance in hell of being able to ride myself.

So, who would your choices be? A hunter? A showjumper? An eventer? A western horse maybe? Tell me your recipe!

 

 

Class of 2020

Presto’s got a new little half-sibling! Well… he will (hopefully) in about 325 days. Sadie is officially in foal.

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Looks just like Presto, doesn’t it?

It was an end of season hail mary, one last attempt before wrapping things up for this year. Michelle decided to try fresh instead of frozen, and after we wracked our brains for a few days trying to think of a stallion available fresh that got us both excited, we landed on a bit of an “outside the box” option.

When we were in Ocala for the FEH symposium in February, we both really loved one colt in particular. He’s still a baby, but there was something about him that grabbed both of us. His pedigree is superb, he’s a fantastic mover, really nicely put together, and should be able to jump a house. He’s stuck with me ever since. Michelle got in touch with his owner, who agreed to have semen collected and shipped, and now here we are. It worked! This will be his first foal.

He’s by the showjumper Herald 3, who jumped through the 1.60m level. Herald 3 is by Heraldik xx, my personal favorite, out of a mare with L and M holsteiner lines on the bottom. If a lot of that sounds familiar it’s because you’ve seen it before in Presto’s sire, Mighty Magic, who’s dam is by Heraldik with L and M Holsteiner lines on the bottom. What can I say, I have a type.

Hopefully that little black dot settles in there and makes itself at home.

We’ve also still got Peyton in foal to Ramiro B, and Daisy and Stormie are in foal to the French jumper pony Usandro. First time using the frozen Usandro semen that WTW imported, and first pregnancies! These will be his first foals in the US. So that makes 4 foals coming in 2020, hopefully, which is a good number. For the ones that didn’t get pregnant this year for whatever reason, they’ll start early next year.

And if you haven’t seen this video of Stormie’s 2019 sportpony foal, Nunez… you’re missing out. He’s the zoomiest little creature I’ve ever seen! Too bad pony racehorses aren’t really a thing.

Happy Wednesday!