Sunday, April 27, 2014


I am sitting on the couch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Humby is asleep against me having “suffered” as I watched and cheered as one after another the top 26 or so riders at Rolex completed their stadium rounds. I whooped for some, growled and clucked at horses through my laptop and overall just basked in lovely riding. Thrown in there though were a couple moments where I smirked as I knew that the general public watched a rider from the all mighty 4 star level make a mistake. Now I know what it’s like to ride a stadium round at a 3 day on a horse that has covered a testing and long cross country course the day before. Admittedly mine were at the 1* level but I can say with all seriousness that you aren’t riding the horse you school at home every day. Tired can manifest itself in many different ways. As a result of this, you occasionally can see a Big Name Elite Rider jump up a horse’s neck and watch the rails go flying in the air.

So I watched as Bulletin Boards, FB and other social media sites had comments start about how amazing it was to see a professional “screw up.” Then my mind got to wondering, a vastly dangerous thing, WHY is it that we assign a level of perfection to those who ride, show, compete, train at a level above our own? Horses are unpredictable at every level. Grade one winning race horses have balked and refused to leave the gate. Dressage horses at the World Cup have missed 1 tempi changes and ad libbed their freestyles. Hunters have knocked a rail at Devon and Andrew Nicholson missed a spot at Rolex. This shouldn’t be a shock. In fact I would go so far as to say it’s a given. “S*&t happens” on a daily basis in the horse world.

I find it interesting when people who are coming into and up the beginner-intermediate levels of jumping balk at simple things like a neck strap or holding mane. But if an equine celebrity does it, oh well that’s a different story! So William Fox Pitt uses a neck strap always…. I wave pictures of this in front of the doubters and watch the confusion crease their brows. They thought that using a device to help them wasn’t what big names did so they didn’t because they want to ride, in little ways, like the big names of our sport. Idol worship is great for Hollywood but isn’t as useful in horses where humility can come quickly. People magazine thankfully doesn’t waste it’s time with OCET, Dutton or Martin Eventing or any of the big hotbeds of eventing. It’s true though that Jessica Springsteen, Georgina Bloomberg and Kaley Cuoco get a little bit of Paparazzi at the shows, but so far not many eventers here in the US.

 And here’s another funny thing…….Take Jessica Springsteen, Georgina, Hannah Selleck or others like them and the mistakes they make on a horse are assumed as deserved because they “bought” their way in. WHAT???  This disparity of thought is amazing to me. Nicholson jumps up a neck and pulls a bunch of rails and it’s as if a piece of Mount Olympus has fallen. But watch Georgina pull 1 rail and it becomes about her family’s wealth and the  ‘obvious’ lack of hard work and “you know she doesn’t ride that much during the week” type of garbage. Welcome to the insanity in the middle of the horse world.

I will fast track this post to my bottom line. EVERYONE on a horse works hard. EVERYONE on a horse will make mistakes. EVERY horse can make a mistake, even those who know their job perfectly.  The reality of life in the horse world is that acceptance of our flaws is the biggest key to greater success. And success is of course a sliding scale. Win at Rolex versus getting around a 2’ course of X’s. If you allow yourself to fail and move on from it, you will succeed more. Willam Fox-Pitt knows this, McClain Ward knows this, Charlotte Dujardin knows this and Jody Petty (Winning jockey of 2014 Maryland Hunt Cup) knows this. We cannot be perfect 100% of the time and should never expect that of ourselves or our horses. Doing so upends the balance of self- esteem and the appreciation of the talents of our mounts. When “Fluffy pony” makes a mistake and comes back better you say “It was all my fault. I am a terrible rider, I did this and that then I lost my balance and lost my eye on the next fence…..and so on.” But good riders say… “Oh well. Let’s try it again” and they pet the pony and move on.

The next time you all feel that sense of Idol worship and false expectations coming on; I beg you, hear the wonderful words of Idina Menzel and just “Let it Go.” Everyone you enjoy watching ride successfully has and will ride poorly. And so too will you. It’s all part of the horse life.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

It's all about Perspective

Perspective is an interesting thing as a horse person. We measure our days in success and failure sometimes those measurements are taken in millimeters sometimes in miles. Many times those measurements fall somewhere in the middle. We measure off of feel, emotions and variations of strength. But all the time we are measuring ourselves and our horses. To this end we try to aim for a goal that is the standard against we are comparing ourselves. Not all goals are the same for all riders. It could be as simple as, “Will today be they day I can walk the horse and not have it lose it’s mind when we pass the chickens?” or for many of my fellow Chester County-ians I see folks asking if they’re ready for the Rolex Kentucky event, the Maryland Hunt Cup, and many other upper echelon type things.

I am looking towards a goal that while a bit of a stretch is not out of the range of possibility. Was it a lifelong dream, no. Was it the craziest idea I have ever thought to try, not quite but it may be close.  I have a Thoroughbred that I purchased in January of 2012 straight off of Penn National race track after a dismal race career of 4 last place finishes out of 4 races. His breeders owned him for the first of these and sold him quickly thereafter. I saw a lot of promise in him that day, but I am realizing that he has brought about 2000% more to the table than I thought I saw in him. He’s a true talent and on some level I don’t feel like I deserve such a nice and compliant animal. (See again with the measuring)

As I have been his sole owner post track life, I have taught him all he knows about showing, jumping, paper chases, eventing, xc hacking, and so on. In return he’s taught me to be a better rider with many skills that had somewhat fallen by the wayside being polished up again. So this crazy goal has me aiming to do a course at a BIG show that can be up to 4’1” high. Not a big deal. In theory I have done it before, a million years ago. But time has passed since then. My fear of mortality is somewhat more present than it was when I was 20. My appreciation that a big fence is a BIG FENCE is solid. So I found myself having to realize that the horse’s capabilities and my own were truly fine. Some polish needed but we both are capable of jumping big fences.

The interesting part has been the “discussion” I have undertaken in convincing my brain that the above statement is true. See, years ago I qualified to ride in the “Local Jumpers” at the Washington International Horse Show. I had a week between qualifying and riding. I had to school in the ring at the arena at 3am because that’s when we were allowed to school. No jumping just flat work. So I went into this show off a streak of a bunch of successful outings. Hell the horse had earned back his entry fees at every show that fall. We were solid. And then when it came time to ride in the ring, in front of maybe 20 people as the LAST class of WIHS, I choked. Stopped at the first fence, 2 rails and time faults. There were only 8 people in the class. Don’t ask me where it went wrong, I have measured that day 10 years ago numerous times. Bottom line I let my head overrule the talents of my body and my horse. That is the beast I am trying to train now. Amazingly the rest of my peers must not have had a great day either as I still finished 3rd!

So this brings me up to yesterday. I took Petey to our first show of the season and with it, his first classes at the height we will see at our goal. 1.20 meters. 3’11”. Not a huge fence compared to a Puissance wall, but not a small fence compared to the tiny X Petey jumped his 3rd day off the track. A lot of time has passed since I had a horse that was doing a 4’ course. I was very grateful to be at a show that allowed me to kind of dictate how much of my course was full bore 1.20. As it’s April and our first show of the season we chose to have the course true for about 80% of it. The oxers were left a notch smaller and not hugely wide.

As I walked into the ring to jump this height for the first time I felt very calm. Petey felt very amenable to listening and away we went. It felt like it was over just as quickly as it began. All the fences were easy and the only reaction to jumping bigger fences on Petey’s part was a light rub here and there and him ‘looking’ for the next fence a bit further out. It was great. The mental demon seemed not to come out. But it was a small show. And there were no crowds. 4’ felt like 3’ felt like 2’ it was easy because I was asking the right horse to do the job. The day was a huge victory on the mental level and the measurements taken on the rest have pointed to areas needing work. I have to stop picking with my hands when I don’t see the distance 10 strides out. Logically I know I can’t find the spot that way, but old habits die hard.

So the journey continues and 3 rounds of experience later the somewhat crazy goal seems far more tenable and far less crazy. Time will tell if I am correct though.


Link to Video of the 2, 1.20 meter rounds: