Monday, October 6, 2014

Interview with Jennifer Clover, Competing at Fair Hill International CCI**

I had the unique opportunity to sit with Jennifer Clover, who qualified and is slated to compete at the Fair Hill International CCI** starting October 15, 2014.      She will be riding Scimitar, owned by Jennifer’s partner, Sam Allan.

 Photo by Myra and Maren McMichael
Jennifer said of her mount, “He is a little older than many going out at this level but each time he goes out I am nothing but grateful.  I am very in-tune to how he feels and I am ready at anytime to say that he has had enough but he keeps saying 'no problem'.  He loves life and loves his job and he knows he is good at it.”  

Scimitar was originally Sam Allan’s mount where she competed him through the  CCI2* and advanced levels when he started having some drainage from his left nostril.  After several vet visits and consultations, a large benign mass was found and removed and it was assumed that was the end of his eventing career. 

However, just as Scimitar was recovering medically, Jennifer’s mare was having some ulcer issues and so Sam offered her Scimitar to do lower level events.  The horse surprised them all as he just kept going and going.   They would pull up from cross country and he was wanting to repeat the course.  So they kept going… trying just one more event and one more level.   And he kept asking for more.   Jennifer has no idea how long or how far he will go but she knows he will tell her when it’s enough and she is listening closely.  

She does what she can to help the big guy do his best.   “I’m a big believer in Flair Nasal Strips, especially for him.  They have made a positive difference. “  

Jennifer started riding at nine years old in the hunter world.   She rode and competed until high school, rode occasionally in her college years.  Then her “real job” in the publishing industry in New York took over and riding took a backseat.  Years later, she landed in St. Mary’s County, Maryland teaching middle school.   A fellow teacher knew someone who needed a young horse to be ridden and the horse bug bit again.  The horse was young and she knew she needed some help so she enlisted the help of Sam Allan who introduced her to eventing and eventually became her business partner.    

 Photo by Myra and Maren McMichael
Moving away from the steady paycheck of teaching was not an easy move.   It began with the opportunity to be the Director of Equestrian Programs for the Greenwell Foundation in Hollywood, Maryland.   Clover managed both Greenwell’s therapeutic riding program and standard riding program in addition to teaching special education in the county school system.   Sam Allan, who was still coaching her, was in the process of opening a 25 stall training and boarding barn in Brandywine, Maryland and convinced Jennifer to take a “leap of faith,” leave her teaching job and begin working in the horse world full time. 

The barn business was a lot of work and they both found it really a “two person thing” that worked better when they did it together.  Jennifer said, “it was easier when you are sharing it with someone – expenses and responsibility.”  For a few years they informally joined forces but then in January 2012 they incorporated as Allan and Clover Sport Horses and made it official.

They make a good team but it’s not without its bit of humor.   In Jennifer’s early years of eventing, she was having a tough time of making it around the Training level course with multiple failures.   When she finally succeeded, she rode over to Sam for a congratulation hug.   The motion startled her horse and next thing you know Jennifer was on the ground and her horse was shooting across the field.   The team learned the lesson of congratulations come AFTER dismounting!

In addition to Sam Allan coaching her, she currently works with R. Scot Evans for the show jumping and Susan Graham White for dressage.  Beyond being an “immense help” to her advancement,  they have also been great supporters.

When I asked Jennifer who else she would want to take a lesson from she said, “Denny Emerson.  I took his clinic a long time ago and I felt his instruction was excellent and he could convey an immense amount of info in a short time span and from his perspective he wants what is best for horse and rider and their welfare.   His point of view is very classical and his emphasis is on horsemanship.  It is something Sam and I really try to teach at home – good fundamentals and horsemanship.”

Another favorite clinician for Jennifer is Lucinda Green.   Jennifer noted that clinics “with her are practical and she has a sense of humor.  She was able to teach ‘feel’ on cross country and that is hard to do.  It’s a gift she has.”  She also liked Lucinda Green because she was willing to tell her students about her failures and fears.  Because of that, Green helped Jennifer understand that you can be a real human and successful at the same time.

When Jennifer and Scimitar competed at Plantation Fields, Scimitar got “really strong on cross country” so they switched out reins and gloves and have done more schooling.   Jennifer remarked, “He has gotten fitter and fitter and a little more full of himself.  I need to make sure I have brakes and steering!”  Overall she feels good going into Fair Hill.  “I feel good about my dressage.  Not perfect -- there are some areas we can neaten up around the edges.  We had a run out at Plantation but that was due to him being strong.   I need to be balanced and organized and we will do fine.”

“As riders we know how to ride and we have these skills but a lot of the question is using those skills in a competitive setting.  I need to get in that zone and stay in that competitive mindset so I remember how to ride.   Be 100% out there for my horse and ride my very best every step the whole time so I can give him the best ride I can.  If I stay present in every step, its slows my brain down.  I ask myself, ‘What do I need to do this step to make the next step better?’”

Her warm up routine is the same for each event.   For dressage, the focus is on getting him “free and over the back and relaxed and letting go and then I pick him up and go through some of the movements.  I really work on that back to get it relaxed.  Before we enter, I need to get him really going forward or he gets excited and tense.”

“For cross country warm up its much of the same of getting him relaxed as he gets excited about what he is doing.  Usually a little gallop to get him warm and a few jumps based on what he will see on course.  I’m pretty conservative for the cross country warm up since he has a big test in front of him.”

Jennifer has the same advice for her students she coaches as she gives to herself.  “Stick with the plan. Ride the rhythm and ride it one stride at a time.   Be ready though if the plan doesn’t go the way you thought.  Have a B plan and a C plan.  Oh… and have fun!”

Jennifer has an impressive support team.   She concurred with, “I have an amazing group of people here.  So impressed with everyone.  We are staying with our friends Laurel and Heather while at Fair Hill.  Of course Sam.   Several students from the barn.   Myra made blue and yellow tie died t-shirts for everyone.  Everyone is so positive and supportive.   Sally Buchheister  (a fellow eventer) was at Plantation and will be at Fair Hill too.  It’s really fun to do this with a good friend.   We stable together and it makes it more special.  Of course Sam has been my #1 fan and supporter and coach.  I wouldn’t be doing this without her.  I am very very grateful.”  

Turning to the horse side of the equation, I asked her if she could ride any horse, who would she choose? She quickly replied, “I’m riding him. I can’t think of any other horse I’d rather be riding than Scimitar.”
Jennifer's Pit Crew
Photo by Myra and Maren McMichael

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Dressage Clinic with Jaralyn Finn

On September 7th, the PVDA Charles County Chapter held a clinic with Jaralyn Finn (http://www.finessedressage.com/).  One of the highlights of the clinic was actually the location -- Stephanie McNutt was kind enough to allow us to use her bright and airy indoor arena at her  farm, Cedar Creek Farm.   The fabulous footing was a treat for all the riders and horses so we very much appreciate her hospitality.

Jaralyn taught a clinic for our chapter last summer so for many of us this was a second lesson and amazingly she remembered the issues we worked on last time and were able to build on the previous lesson.   We had eight riders ranging from Intro to Third Level so auditors could take away something from the day no matter what level they were riding.  One rider, Mary Beth Klinger, remarked, "It was terrific to see Jaralyn again. We worked on having the horse more connected right from the start of the lesson. It was a very worthwhile training."

Correct Like you Mean It and Let Go
No matter what level you were riding, correct and release was an important theme of the clinic.  One upper level rider was working on getting prompt responses to her requests.   Jaralyn asked her to think of the requests as "1, 2, 3".  1 being the lightest of aids, 2 a little firmer and 3 being an overcorrection sure to bring a dramatic response.   Jaralyn was quick to point out that even though the aids were to be prompt, you needed to give the horse time to realize their mistake before you moved to the next level of correction.

During another ride, Jaralyn pointed out that holding your leg in place continually was also not the correct aid.  You needed a quick firm pulse with the leg or spur and then release.

The Rider has Lots of Responsibility
Another theme of the clinic is that it’s up to us, as the rider, to give clear and correct aids to our horse. One horse had a hard time turning in time going into the corner.  After the turn he counter bent coming off the wall.  Jaralyn fixed this by having the rider first slow the tempo down a little before each corner and then turn about a meter before the corner and leg yield over.  By the third attempt they were making a perfect turn with correct bend and flexion.   It was up to the rider to set her horse up for success going into the turn.

Another rider was having some issues with position in canter.  Jaralyn had her get lightly up in two point and then sit down.   After her lesson the rider exclaimed, "I realized how important position is.  Immediately my hands were quieter and my horse moved better. The other thing she shared was when cantering keep your feet planted down into the stirrups and open your legs and hips. Cantering was much easier when my position improved."

At one point, Jaralyn mimicked the old Smokey the Bear mantra with, "Only YOU can keep contact." Like so many things in our riding, its usually the rider that is the source of problem and it’s not up to our horse to keep the contact (or whatever goal we are attempting to achieve) – it’s up to the rider to show the way.

Rider Position is OH so Important
Several riders had some difficulty with their positions and Jaralyn did some corrections that made all the difference in how their horse moved.  As one auditor commented on what she learned, "if the rider is out of alignment, the horse will be as well."

For those that needed more freedom and energy from their horse -- Keep the knee and thigh open with a slight bowleg.   It’s important to keep the weight in the stirrup at the ball of the foot so that your seat remains light.  Another image she gave a rider was to think as if her horse was reaching for a cavalletti in each stride.

For those that needed more push from behind -- think of shifting the yielding behind the saddle rather than the front of the horse as the "better he is from behind, the better he will feel in your hands."

For those looking for more fluidity in the up and down transitions -- think of a lighter pelvis for an up transition and pushing the pubic bone down when asking for a down transition.

Clinic auditor, Betsy Hunter summed the clinic up well, "I liked the way Jaralyn was able to quickly access each rider and decide what was most important to work on.  She focused on each rider, no matter what level, so that they improved and gained confidence in themselves and their horses.  She encouraged everyone to stretch out of their comfort zone."




Monday, July 14, 2014

My Horse Recovers from a Suspensory Pull - I Recover from Knee Surgery

About a month before I had my knee replacement surgery, Golly was showing some slight lameness.  A couple of days off and he was still off but not substantially.   My annual vet visit was coming up anyway so I asked her to add a lameness exam. After watching him go, doing a nerve block and a hands on physical exam, she said it was a suspension pull in the upper part of the right front leg.  Ugggh...

The treatment plan was a month of stall rest and then slowly put him back into work.  Since I was going to be out anyway, we agreed on two months of stall rest since the extra wouldn't hurt and could only help.

The full plan was:

1. Complete stall rest for one month
2. Stall rest for 12 hours and 12 hours in small outdoor paddock for remainder of summer
3. Starting at the two month mark, ten minutes of hand walking for two weeks
4. Ten minutes of hand walking and five minutes of walking under saddle for two weeks
5. Ten minutes of walking under saddle and 2-4 minutes of trotting
6. Adding more trot as he can handle the work

At four weeks past my knee replacement, I recruited friends to begin the hand walking.  I was shocked at how even ten minutes of hand walking left him a little breathless.  Two months of standing still really knocked his fitness level to nothing!

At five and half weeks past surgery I was getting a little impatient so decided to go just a bit faster and add a couple minutes under saddle.   You'd think a horse that hadn't been ridden for two months would be a LITTLE bad his first time under saddle but he was great ..... so.... I was tempted ..... could MY leg handle a few minutes in the saddle?   Since I had the help I went ahead and hopped on and did a quick circle.  The whole thing was painless and easy so I couldn't be happier with our first ride back together.

We won't know how his leg has has healed until he begins the trot work but so far its looking good and he seems happy to be back in the ring.   I have my doc appointment on Friday and plan to ask how it would affect my knee if I had to quickly get off.  If all is good with a quick dismount, I plan to do all the future under saddle work!  Woohoo!

Excuse the outfit - didn't think I would be riding!




Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Four Weeks After Knee Replacement

Recovery is going well but still seems slow to me.   I was measured at the therapy office yesterday and am getting very good numbers -- full extension and 130 degrees flexed.   This is pretty far ahead of the norm but I think much of that is due to the strength and flexibility I had before the surgery. As a horse owner, you can't tell the horse, "Sorry, my knee hurts today... I'll feed you tomorrow."   So you continue the walking and loading of grain and hay and in the end this helps your recovery.
My New Bionic Knee

I think the pool therapy is also helping.  I have a 30-45 minute routine I follow on the days I don't go to "official" therapy.   It includes deep knee bends at the stairs, stair climbing, swimming laps, walking in chest high water and treading water in the deep end with high knees and full extension.  When I do the high knees while treading water, I can feel the scar tissue "snap" so I think that is giving me some decent improvement in the flexibility.  For one reason or the other its easier to stretch past the comfort level when I'm in the pool.

I'm driving short distances now but since the knee gets stiff at longer distances I don't trust myself to drive longer distances (like an hour).  I also have gone back to feeding the horses giving at least some relief to my good friend who has been shouldering the load during my recovery.  I am able to muck stalls, feed and spread hay but walking the horses is hard!  They just walk too fast for my unstable legs.  I get help when I can but when I do lead them, it looks quite comical.   They are looking at me confused and trying to figure out why we are going so slow and are taking advantage of my speed (or lack of it) by stopping to eat grass.

Front View
My goal is to be back on my horse July 15th which means that Golly, who has been on stall rest due to his suspensory pull, needs to start his controlled ten minute hand walking.  Again, I am relying on fabulous horse friends to do this as I can obviously cannot walk fast enough to provide any therapy to him.   After two weeks of hand walking he is due to start ten minutes of under saddle walking per day which I am hoping I can do.

Last bit of news on my knee is that I am trying to go without pain meds.  This morning I am questioning my decision as there is some decent pain.  I may have to bend and take at least an over the counter med for a few days.

Looking forward to being back on my horse.  Crossing fingers and working hard to get there.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Three Weeks After Knee Replacement

(No Warning Today -- picture of wound is included... but I don't think its gross enough to warrant a warning!)  

Today is the third week anniversary of my new knee.  A lot has happened in the last week.  

I went to my surgeon for my follow up early this week and he is quite pleased with the progress. Nearly giddy I think :-)   He said doing surgery on younger people is a catch 22 -- you hate to do it to someone so young who may need a second one down the road but it was nice to see how fast someone young heals from it.   Good news was that at just 2 weeks and a day he gave me the clearance to swim.

At physical therapy I discovered that while I have enough bend to put my operated leg on a higher step, my quad muscle is not strong enough to lift my body up to it.  Not even close.  That is disappointing so I decided to make that a goal in my homework this week.   Since I could get in the pool, I used the buoyancy of the water to help.   I started with water walking, making sure to do the heel strike and push off the ball of my foot.   Once I had a little whirl pool going, I reversed and went against the flow of the water.  Then I held the side of the pool and stepped up.  Once I had that down, I did it without holding the side of the pool.  I fell a few times but since the water "caught" me it wasn't a bid deal.  Then I repeated the series.

This is surprisingly hard.  Who would guess that walking up a step would be that fatiguing to a muscle?   The good news is that its improved throughout the week.  The bad news is that its still hard and its still not very controlled.

I no longer use a cane or crutch, even on uneven ground.    I DO walk VERY slowly on uneven ground.  I went to the barn a couple of times this week and cleaned some stalls and one of the days took a few pads of hay out to the paddock.  Its embarrassing how slow I walk on uneven ground.  I still don't feel safe pushing the wheelbarrow across the uneven ground or leading the horses so I am still fairly useless at the barn.  Irritating because I want to be helpful and I am relying on my ever generous neighbor friend.

Okay... here is the last tidbit... don't tell anyone but I am driving ... a little.   I have driven to the barn twice and feel okay but don't think I'd feel comfortable driving over about 20 miles an hour so I think that is as far as I will go for now.  Luckily the barn just down the street from my house and on a back road so I can drive slow.

So that's where I am at week three.  Ahead of schedule but still not as quick as I would like.
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Want to read more about knee replacement?  Put "knee replacement" in the search box to pull up all my postings on the subject.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Two Weeks After Knee Replacement

(Standard Warning:  wound pic at the end of this post.  However, it is looking better and not so gross!).

Its now two weeks after my surgery and I think things are going well.  Two weeks is the mark when a good percentage of infections occur so I am happy to be past that.  I finished at home physical therapy yesterday and began outpatient therapy today.  I have been able to get to the barn a few times thanks to a friend who picks me up.   I have even cleaned a few stalls.  I am not strong or stable enough to lead a horse but I'm happy to at least be a little helpful.

Walking has gotten much easier but I am still pretty unstable on uneven ground.   In home physical therapy said I can walk unassisted (no cane or crutch) on flat stable ground as long as I continue to walk with a normal gait (push off with the toe, land on the heel, bend the knee).

At my first outpatient therapy they were pretty pleased with my progress and said I may only need another three weeks of therapy!  Woohoo!!!   The most exciting thing that happened today was I was able to do a full rotation on the stationary bike.  It seems like such a small thing but its pretty exciting when it happens.  I have full extension but my flexion is only at 98 degrees.  I would like to get to 120 degrees.   We shall see.  Tomorrow I go for my follow up visit with the surgeon so I'll ask what he thinks I should expect in terms of flexion.  I'm also hoping he gives me the go ahead to do some pool walking.   The wound looks closed to me ..... I hope he agrees.

The biggest issue I have is that my nerves are "refiring" and out of nowhere I get shooting electric shocks through the knee.  Supposed to be normal and I remember this from my last replacement but doesn't make it any more fun.

Things went so well today that I wondered if I could drive before the suggested five weeks.  Its only been two but I thought it was worth giving it a try just around my driveway.   So I grabbed the keys and headed to the car.   Opened the door and realized I couldn't even get my leg up high enough to get in the car!   That was a slap of reality.  I have more work to do!

So mostly pleased with the progress but certainly have a lot more work to get to the finish line.  I set a goal today to be on the horse by week six.   Hope I make it.

So what do you think?  Ready for the pool?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

One Week After Knee Replacement

(Warning again... for those following along so they can see what to expect on their knee replacement journey... there is another picture at the end of the wound..... stop before the end if that is not your thing.)

Things are going well... maybe too well.  Physical therapy came out on Monday and said I was doing very well and to "keep up the good work".  I was quite full of myself and felt like I could conquer the world.... so I tried to do just that on Tuesday.

I got up Tuesday feeling pretty good too.   Despite waking multiple times during the night to the dog trying to escape from the mud room where she was jailed for coming in at bedtime a muddy mess and the cat who decided at 3 am it was a good idea to play World Cup soccer with a pen in the dining room, I had little pain and lots of energy.

After the family left for school and work, I tackled the kitchen mess and then headed upstairs for a shower.  While upstairs I decided to vacuum the floors.  That went well so I had my son bring the vacuum downstairs for me to take care of the downstairs carpets later in the day.  I interrupted my cleaning so my friend could take me for a visit to my horse.  She hand grazed him and we talked and I exercised my leg by standing equally on both legs for about a half hour.  Dang ... I was superwoman!

When I got home, I realized I was pretty hungry so fixed myself a sandwich and then collapsed on the sofa.   I felt a bit sick to my stomach and weak in the head.   Then I noticed my ankle on the right was much bigger than the other.  Oh shoot... the thigh too.   Duh.... I knew better.  Despite me wanting to be a superwoman, apparently I'm just a regular person with a bum leg.

So the rest of the day was spent on the sofa with ice and pillows to elevate.

Today was more of the same until my physical therapist came.   We worked hard while she was here but she cautioned me that my job right now was to rest and do my exercises effectively and housework was not one of my exercises.    Point taken.

Despite my hard headed decision to do more than I should, things are going well.  I am able to put full weight on the leg although I am using the crutch as directed so I protect it and walk with the proper form -- heel first, toe pushing off, knee bent.   The therapist confirmed that I have full extension of my leg and am about 85 degrees bent.   Hoping for a bit more bend once all the swelling I caused goes down.  Patience......

Getting there... the puckers are the internal
stitches.  They should smooth out once it heals inside.