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 (  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.

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.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Four Days After Knee Replacement, At home and Adjusting

(WARNING:  at the end of this article I post a pic of my wound and stitches.   It doesnt look bad but if you dont like pics of wounds, you may want to stop halfway through reading this.)  I got released from the hospital yesterday and while its great to be home there are new adjustments that need to made.  The sofa I am sleeping on is lower than the hospital bed, as well as all the chairs, so figuring out how to get up and down from it was a new challenge.   And while this may be TMI, figuring out how to sit on a toilet lower than a hospital one was also a challenge.  I stick the operated leg out as far as I can straight, pull the non-operated close to the toilet, lean against the wall and slowly slide down, hoping that I don't jar the injured leg.  Its a very elegant sight!

Just being home was exhausting so luckily I slept better than I had been at the hospital.  I still woke about every two to three hours, visited the bathroom and did my exercices but was then able to get back to sleep.   Had much more sleep last night than any previous night since the surgery.   Pain is becoming less - I haven't had a Percocet since last night (still on Celebrex) but will probably give in and take one this afternoon.

I got up at 6:30 am this morning, had breakfast and did some bending exercises.  That tired me out!  I then took a two hour nap!   I going to try to stay awake now until something close to bedtime but no promises.

The challenge now is to get some bend in my leg.  I am able to get it quite straight (which is the opposite of my experience with my partial knee replacement) but still cannot get a 90 degree bend.  Am trying to at least get close today.   You can see in this pic that I have a ways to go until I have  90 degree bend.

I am using a dog leash wrapped around my foot to help me pull the foot closer to the body to complete what the therapists call "heel slides".  Each time I get closer but still not there.

This surgery they placed a drain in my leg which has helped minimize the bruising.   I have some bruising under my knee and at the drain hole but not much more than that.  I have bruising also inside my elbows where they took their daily blood draw.  Not bad though.

The wound is healing well.  I just keep some light gauze on it and an ace bandage and there is no drainage or bleeding.  Still keeping a close eye on it for increased heat or drainage as a sign of infection.  Looks good so far.    Home therapy comes tomorrow and will continue until next week when I start outpatient.  Considering how difficult it was to get in and out of the car with a leg that only goes straight, I think the home therapy was a good idea.    And now the wound pic!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Day Two After Knee Replacement -- Getting Unhooked

During the night I started to feel a bit better and have more mobility.  I was able to get in and out of bed using my "good" leg to move the bad one without total fear that it was going to fall and hurt like the dickens. So I started the day with some high hopes that PT was going to be easy.

Hah!  I got assigned a PT person who worked me hard.  (Which is a good thing - I want to be worked hard.) We started off by getting up using crutches instead of a walker and took a lap around the nurses station.  Then we hit a flight of stairs going both up and down.  I thought that was pretty good but she had more in store for me.  We did ankle pumps (easy - yeah!), some heel slides (not too bad) and then she had me lay back in the bed with a roll under the knee and told me to lift my foot up, contracting my quad muscles.  Hah!  I quite firmly told my leg to do so and it completely ignored me.   She then supported my ankle some and I was able to do some lifts that she made me hold for 3 seconds and then repeat.  Next was lifting the leg with it straight out.  Same issue.  I told my leg to lift but no go.  With some assistance I was able to but wow, did it hurt!

We finished with me sitting in a chair attempting to get the leg at a 90 degree angle.  It couldn't get all the way there but got close.   Hanging it from the chair position though was quite painful.   I sat in the chair for the rest of the day though and kept stretching it back and forth and it did get better as the day continued.

My quad muscle feels like a hard rock as if I am contracting it all the time.  With some massage it loosens up some but never completely relaxes.  I remember this from my first knee replacements so I am not surprised but like childbirth, you kind of forget about it.

Still on Percocet which makes me loopy so no idea if any of this makes sense but hopefully so.   My kids came by to see me and I wasn't sure what I was saying to them.   I think I was drifting in and out and mixing what they were saying with what I was dreaming.   They thought it was quite funny to hear their Mom all nuts.

I am slowly being unhooked from items.  I no longer have the compression pad on my "good" leg and they removed the drain from my operated leg.  I anticipated that hurting but really it just felt weird -- like someone pulling a tube through my muscles.  IV is still in but not hooked up except when I am getting antibiotics.   The ice machine is hooked up when I am in bed and not doing exercises.

I should be released from the hospital tomorrow. Only thing that might hold it back is that my white blood cell count is a little elevated so that may keep me here to get additional IV antibiotics.  We shall see.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

First Day After Knee Replacement

I had my full knee replacement yesterday and it went well.  The doc came by to see me today and was quite pleased.  Said that the range of motion he got was very good and  he thought the results would be good.  Its nice to see your doc excited about your surgery!

It  hurts today but that is certainly to be expected.  I have good leg extension (being able to lay your leg flat) but its hard to bend it right now.  I can get it about 40 degrees but only with the therapist moving it to that point.  I was able to make a lap around the nurse station twice today.  Woohoo!  With a walker of course.

I have a continuous ice machine attached to my operated leg.  It has a small cooler of ice and it circulates cold water around my leg.  The blue wrap is where the cool water is.

The other leg has an air pack that continuously pumps and massages my leg to help prevent blood clots.

I'm surprisingly hungry and despite the hospital food probably not really tasting all that great.... I think its delicious and have eaten it all.  I'm also very thirsty and have drunk four pitchers of water since yesterday afternoon.  Good to help build back up the blood lost during surgery and also to flush out the anestetia.

During my morning physical therapy, they started by having me sit up on the side of my bed and I felt a bit weak headed so they just helped into a chair and had me sit there for a half hour or so when my blood pressure stabilized.  Didn't want to collect me from the floor after passing out!

After my walk, we put a sheet under my foot and I used it to pull my foot in a heel slide toward me to help get that bend going in my knee.  Couldn't go very far but it got better each effort so we will get there.

So mostly I have done a bunch of heel pumps, a couple walks, and a whole lot of napping.   The tv was on today but I have no idea what I watched as I kept falling asleep during each show.   Hope tomorrow I have a bit more knee flexibility and am able to navigate some stairs.

Fun times.  I'll finish with a picture of myself... I don't like quite as good as before I looked before surgery -- still kinda weak looking.   One step at a time!

Monday, June 2, 2014

My horse and I are both Lame and an Update on PRP Therapy

I realized that I never gave an update on how the PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) therapy went.   A few months ago I decided to give a fairly new therapy a try to help my arthritic knee.   Essentially the medical pros take blood from your arm, centrifuge it, extract the platelets from the blood and inject the platelets and plasma into your knee in hopes of regenerating cartilage and providing some pain relief.    Its been FDA approved but because the results are still iffy and its not been determined which patients it works for and which not, insurance usually will not cover it.

Golly enjoying his "vacation"
I decided to give it a try though and while it did help the achiness in the soft tissue, it did not make much difference in the join pain so I decided to move forward with my second knee replacement which is scheduled for tomorrow.

About the same time that I decided to go for the second knee replacement, Golly came up lame and after a vet exam, it was determined that he had a mild suspensory pull and was confined to stall rest.  He has been in his stall for the last month and is now allowed out part of the day in a small paddock part of the day.   Lest you feel sorry for him, he's living the life of luxury as my girlfriend is loaning me her big airy double stall for him and his current job is his favorite thing -- doing nothing... and eating.

Its been a bit of a struggle making sure his belly is full, he is occupied mentally and he doesn't gain weight but I'll fill you in on that in another post.

He will be starting rehab with hand walking a couple of weeks before I can ride and then once I can ride, we will start with just walking for ten minutes at a time -- perfect timing for us both as we will both have limited ability.   Only major issue is that I have to rely on GREAT friends to do the hand walking and do the first couple rides under saddle ... just in case he is a bit frisky the first time out.

Stay tuned for some recovery pics as this knee heals.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Lessons Learned from Top Eventers for an Amateur Dressage Rider

At the recent Rolex Kentucky 3 Day, I spent a lot of time observing riders both in competition and in their warmup and there are a few things that I took away that I plan to apply to my own riding.

Prepping for the fence
Of all the traits I observed, this is the one thing that set apart the winning riders from the ones at the bottom of the pack.   This applied in both their dressage and their jumping.    William Fox-Pitt, who ended up on the wining horse for the weekend, truly looked as if he had all the time in the world to complete his dressage test. Before the rein back, he paused so long I thought briefly he had forgotten what to do for the next movement.

In reality, he was setting his horse up for success.  Instead of going directly from halt to the rein back, he allowed each movement to be its own entity.   He didn't begin the rein back until he knew he was going to get a perfect one.  And he did.

The riders who took their time at the jumps were also the successful ones.    There were riders who looked as if they were more or less along for the ride.  Their horse got over the jump for the most part but it had a frantic, "Oh, wow, we got over!" look rather than a confident, "Well, of course, we nailed that baby!" look.

The ones that nailed the jump were the ones that set their horse up for success by sitting back, both slowing their horse to allow them to see the upcoming jump and getting the horses in a nice collected bouncy gait before attacking the jump.

Preparation and Focus
William Fox-Pitt in the warm up
This trait goes along with the previous one but to expand on it a bit, it wasn't just patience - the riders who succeeded did their homework.   It was clear that the riders who ended up on the podium, knew exactly what their horse needed and they had a plan.    In the dressage warmup, they were completely focused on their plan.  Despite their sometimes being hundreds of people surrounding the warm up ring, the rider paid no attention to them and focused on their plan.

Because I was reporting for a British magazine, I spent a lot of time watching William Fox-Pitt and I was truly impressed with his focus.  He spent about an hour in the dressage warm up and in that time I never saw him look up from his task, minus one quick stop to get a drink.   Watching him, you would think that he was home alone in his ring.   Complete focus on his plan.

Before the competition begins, the riders walk the cross country course.  Again, the riders who succeeded were the ones that had a clear plan of attack.  As they approached each jump, they knew exactly where they were going to turn, exactly how many strides it was going to  take to get to the jump, exactly where they were going to collect the horse and exactly where they were going to take off.    This type of planning pays off in your horse's trust.  The successful rider's horses looked confident that they were going to get over because they trusted their rider had a plan for them and was going to execute it.
What light fingers! And the expression on this horse's face
looks like this massive fence is so easy he could take a nap.

Patience, focus and preparation are the same traits I should take to each dressage test.   I know my horse and I should have a clear plan for warmup and should execute it with focus.
During the test I need to make sure I set up each movement for success and have the patience to do so.  If I know my horse rushes the entrance and initial halt, I need to have exercises planned in the warmup to mitigate the issue and as I turn the corner to enter the arena, I need to take my time and have a clear plan of action to help him go down centerline with confidence and a steady tempo.  A wish and a prayer aren't going to make it happen.

Kindness and Compassion
One other item I witnessed at Rolex that I have to mention is the respect and compassion for the horse.   Not once did I hear a rider say they failed because of the horse.  It was always, "I should have set him up better" or "he tried hard but it wasn't his day".    When they had success, they never took the credit but gave it to their horse with, "She was fabulous.  I couldn't love her more."

I saw the riders pat their horses on the neck infusing a bit of courage before entering the ring and I saw them clap their success on their necks after successful jumps.

Despite what must be crushing disappointment after putting so much of their lives into competing at Rolex, riders again and again made the tough decision to retire their horse from the competition - not because a judge told them to but because they knew their horse and knew it was best for them.

Riding, in any discipline, is a team effort between you and your horse and these top riders showed this amateur rider a thing or two I plan to follow.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

On My Way to Rolex!!!

Sitting in the airport now waiting for my flight to Kentucky.  Woohooo!!!   I have plans to watch dressage all day tomorrow including spending some time watching the warmup ring so I can see what high level riders do with highly conditioned and energetic horses before their test.  Of course I am not sure how watching horses of that caliber and energy will apply to my warm up with my tank of horse, Golly, but you never know when that knowledge will be needed!

I will also be reporting for Eventing Worldwide so I was issued a media pass which will get me some access to the after event press conferences and some interviews.   So excited!

If there is anything you would like a report on in regards to dressage tomorrow, send it may way.  I'd be glad to include it in my report.

Till tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Interview with Katie Frei

Photo Courtesy of Tara Katherine Photography
Katie competing at Rolex Kentucky 3 Day
Photo Courtesy of Tara Katherine Photography
Headquartered at her farm Yellow Rose Eventing in Florida, Katie Frei will be competing at the 2014 Rolex Kentucky 3 Day in April with her horse, Houdini. I caught up with Katie right after she arrived at the Fork 2014 CIC3*/CIC2* & HT and she filled me in on her background and what is keeping her up at night about the upcoming Rolex Kentucky 3 Day.

Tell me a bit about your childhood and when you started riding.

I grew up near Kalamazoo, Michigan where my parents still live. My parents were in pharmaceuticals but bred racehorses as a hobby. They sold some horses at Keeneland and raced some. None of ours made it big on the track but it did get me some good horses to ride!

At about six I started riding, I had a Shetland pony named Woody who was the most rotten pony ever. I wanted so badly to have a pony hunter with all the bling but my parents said, “no, we have thoroughbreds and that is what you will ride.” I’d go in the hunter ring and my horse would lap the others. I tried the hunter ring, dressage, even fox hunting but was not successful at any of them. Then at about 8 or 9 I tried a baby novice event and won. I finally found the discipline my horse was good at so I stuck with it.

What is your daily routine?

I have a couple of working students and we all begin our day at 7 am. We have 16 horses in work, mostly young horses that are 6 and below in age. We feed, bring in, turn out, muck stalls to start the day. I try to be on my first horse by 8 am.

When I had my business in Maryland it was more of a teaching based business. I love to teach but it didn’t give me enough time to ride so when I moved my business to Florida I shifted my business model to more of a sale based so most of the horses are for sale – some owned by me and some owned by investors. The working students have their own horses too of course.

I have some very good clients who will fly to Europe .. or send me with their checkbook … we pick out a horse and put some time into them and then we sell them. It’s a bit nerve racking spending someone else’s money but its worked out well.

The day never really ends. We ride until dark or later. Clients sometimes are here late in the day to try horses and sometimes we don’t’ get to ride our personal horses until we’re all done. It’s great, but busy. We try to do fun things when we can like go to HITS to watch the Grand Prixs, go out to eat, things like that. But really we have fun all the time – I have a great group here.

Speaking of eating, when do you get a chance?

<laughing> We don’t! Its coffee in the morning, grab something when you can and some wine or beer at night.. Pretty much a liquid diet!

What is Houdini’s daily routine?

Houdini goes out for turnout each night. He’s a real wimp though and can’t go out by himself so I got him a present this year -- a mini named Spartucus who bosses him around. He comes in occasionally with tiny scrapes – at knee height! The turnout really helps with his mental health.

Each morning the girls (working students) lunge him for 20 minutes to get some of that extra energy out so he is more focused when I ride him – except for Sunday which is his day off. I am a big believer in a program. They need a program. They need a plan….. You can’t go out and say “hmmm what am I going to do today?”
Katie and Houdini

So Mondays are for fitness unless there is a show the previous Sunday and then they get the day off. We will either do trot work or hack. Tuesday is flat work. Wednesday we jump. Thursday is for fitness for some horses or we flat school. Friday we jump some smaller jumps – a grid or some poles. Saturday we gallop on my track or do cross country. Sunday is the horse’s day off but not for me! -- I have to be a farmer and fix everything that is broken on the farm. Owning your own farm is a lot of work!

How long do you work each horse?

Usually about 40 minutes for each workout. Sometimes we do two sessions a day. Because we are a sale based barn we need to be flexible – you never know when a client might show up.

What did you do in your last schooling session?

Well since we are at the Fork right now I only have two horses with me so its like a vacation! I have Hannibal who is a homebred and he is doing the young horse class and of course I have Houdini with me. His (Houdini) class isn’t until Friday so today (Wednesday) we just did a relaxed canter. We got here yesterday and I try to get on them as soon as we get someplace because I think it helps them relax and get out the tension they got while trailering. Helps them relax at night and eat better. So even if it’s a long trip I get on. Sometimes it doesn’t work out if we arrive late at night but I try.

You had a good run with your horse Sir Donovan. Where is he now? Is he still competing?

I sold him to Peter Barry who is friends with Boyd (Martin) and now Boyd has the ride on him this Spring. He is a HUGE Irish horse and was way too big for me since I’m only 5’2”. Boyd can ride him better with his long legs and they are doing very well together. <A few days after we talked, Katie filled me in on some news… “Update on this.. a friend of mine in Michigan just bought Sir Donovan! Phillipa Humphreys will now have the ride on him and I am thrilled for them.”>

What staff do you have?

I have two working students -- Vanessa has been with me since September. She graduated from Clemson and we just found her a new horse in the fall from the track. Catherine has been with me about a year and is taking a gap year away from college. She just completed her first one * and did great! They have a lesson every day and are great people. Its not a paid position but they have all their expenses paid. They share an apartment here on the farm, have a credit card to buy groceries and their horse board is paid as well as their shipping to events. We have a great time together!

How does your husband put up with all that estrogen?

Sven is gone all day managing his own family horse business near HITS Ocala. They breed about 40 foals a year. He used to ride his stallion Quebec (Quick Star) at the Grand Prix level but spends most of his time now selling horses and running his family business, EWSZ.

The horse business is not an easy one. Tell me how you are succeeding.

If you are smart and business savvy there is potential to make money in this business. Good horses sell themselves… especially when they are attractive and sensible and talented. We were able to buy our farm and have everything we need and the horses have everything they need. It does help to have great equipment and product sponsors and good owners who go in partnerships with horses.

Its nerve racking spending someone else’s money on a horse as an investment but I’ve had a good record. I like being successful for my owners and getting them a good return on their investment and work hard to make sure it happens.

How do you keep you sponsors happy and how did you get your sponsors?

You have to beat the bushes a little bit. Sometimes they contact me but I have a good friend who is smart at marketing and she put together a cd and video about a sponsorship package and that worked well. It’s something that is hard for me. I’m pretty modest so it’s a bit harder for me to get sponsors. It’s probably why you couldn’t find much about me in writing – I’m not one to say “look at me; I’m the best rider ever.”

I do have some great sponsors though. Heritage has the best gloves ever and Bob Bitzer sends me all I need. Houdini can’t function without his RevitaVet and Tom Neumann is always very supportive of us. I recently became a Devoucoux rider and I am thrilled with their saddles.

Rolex Kentucky is coming up. What is keeping you up at night worrying?

I want my horse to have a good experience. No matter what capacity that is. I don’t want my horse to walk away with less confidence than what he came with. Go there and learn something. Even if the weekend doesn’t’ go my way and doesn’t meet my expectations, I want him to take something good from it.

Houdini is very genuine. A little odd. A little strange. But a huge heart. He struggles a bit with his self confidence – he tries very hard. If I fall off he goes back to his stall and sulks and feels bad. Even if it’s my fault, he will come out of the ring shook up and think he did something bad.

So going into Kentucky I need him to feel like Superman, I need to build up his ego.

I ran him a at a Prelim horse trial before Jersey Fresh and he came out with a ton of confidence so I will do it again for Kentucky to make sure he feels confident. Not to place but so he feels good. If my horse feels good I do too.

He’s a good horse. I want to make it a good experience for him.

What will be your routine at Rolex? When will you get there?

We can check in on Monday. There is no point in trying to sleep the Sunday night – we are too excited – so we will drive all night Sunday and get there Monday to settle in. It’s better for the horses anyway to drive in cool of night.

In the past I have brought some sale horses with me. You’d be surprised how many people are there shopping for horses and the stabling is cheap. Lots of competitors bring other horses that need be worked with them or horses that they are moving from their winter Florida quarters to summer North quarters.

I think this year though I am going to bring Houdini alone because he is like a ‘Stage 5 Cling On’ – he attaches to his trailer mates and then can’t concentrate. Him being alone will help him get in the zone.

Where will you stay?

At events we typically stay in my living quarter trailer but at Kentucky Mom always treats us to a hotel, so why not?

Does your Mom come to the big events?

She actually comes to a lot of them. Even the smaller ones. Dad is a bit more high maintenance and likes the events that have a VIP tent where he can enjoy the free coffee to sit and read the Wall Street Journal.

Who else is coming?

Vanessa will come groom and help. She is great. My husband, Sven, will be there – he is in charge of the worrying!

Best of luck Katie at Rolex -- we will be cheering for you!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Second Knee Surgery is in my Future but trying PRP First

Those following along on my journey know that about a year and half ago I had a partial knee replacement on my left knee.  At the time of the replacement my other knee was in pain as well but not nearly as much as the one that I had replaced.   Arthritis is progressive.  You may be able to slow it down but its not ever going to get better.

May 2013 X-Ray
While its still not nearly as bad as my left knee, the right knee is getting worse and I can't walk now without limping and its starting to cause my hip, ankle and back on that side to hurt.    I had xrays taken last May and then again on March 30th and there is definite progression.   Besides the narrowing of the space, my leg is collapsing on the inside so I am getting more bowlegged which is causing some of the limping.

I'm also including an xray of a normal knee so you can see what it should look like without arthritis.

When there is this much damage there are very limited options available.  My doctor said I could try the unloader brace but I tried that on the right knee and it only caused bruising and ripped the skin off my knee and didn't improve the pain any  Not trying that again.
March 2014 X-Ray

I could also try OrthoVist again but it generally does not work well when there is so little cartilage left.

And there is knee replacement which has a fairly extensive recovery process but was very successful on my right knee.

But there is ONE other option that is fairly controversial at this point but has shown some promising results -- PRP or Platelet Rich Plasma injections.  PRP is where they remove blood from your arm, remove the platelets from the whole blood and then inject it directly into the knee with the hopes of stimulating growth and healing.  Despite it showing some decent results, its not currently covered by insurance and there are not many doctors who are using it for arthritis.  I had been reading about the studies using the technology so when my doctor mentioned it was something he would like to try, I jumped at being his first patient.

Being his guinea pig wasn't as risky as it sounds.  He has been using the process in surgery for soft tissue repair quite awhile with very good results.

Normal Knee
So last week I became his first arthritis patient to receive PRP.  He removed 30 cc of blood from my arm, centrifuged it, and then injected the resulting 7 or so cc of platelets into my knee using ultrasound to guide the needle.   The injection itself was not painful but about halfway through the pressure of all that liquid behind my knee WAS painful.  Not unbearable though and well worth it if I get good results.

Its been a few days now and it may be just having more fluid in there but I do feel there is less pain so I am hopeful.  I know my knee is pretty far gone though so the chances are lower but one can hope.  If it works then I will get another injection in about six weeks and potentially one more.

Crossing fingers and toes that it works.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Loose hands - not good for baby birds and not good for my horse

As dressage riders we frequently are told the visual that we should hold our reins as if we are holding a baby bird.  Tight enough not to drop the bird but not so tight that you will crush the bird.   I thought I understood this and followed it well until today's lesson where I had an "aha" moment.   (Yeah!  I love those!)

I have been working hard on keeping steadier rein contact but I missed something important.   Today my instructor pointed out that my hands were "giving the reins away".  I was keeping steady in my arms and elbows but each time I asked for more from behind (and other times too...really a LOT of the time), I was opening my hand and providing a loose environment... essentially dropping the baby bird.

You would think that a soft forgiving hand grip would be a good thing.  And it is.  But a hand that continually opens and closes is NOT a forgiving hand grip.  Its a taking / giving / taking /giving hand and that can be annoying and even worse cruel.  

Its our job as a rider to provide a stable place for our horses.   They need to know that our hand is going to be stable in every area -- the hand, the elbow, and the arm.  I understand its a fine line between staying stable and being rigid but that is our job as a rider - to find that fine line.

Go back to that baby bird.   If I am only holding the bird with my thumb and pointer finger I am keeping him from falling or flying away but I am not providing a secure environment where he bird feels safe.   Keeping the bottom fingers closed and firm provide a "nest" of security.   I need to do the same for my horse.

Like all bad habits this is going to take a bit to break.  I knew it was working well because Golly responded well to the change.  Despite that I felt as if I was clenching my fist in comparison to the previous amount of pressure.  And I found myself continually having to remind myself to "darn it... shut those fingers".

Time to practice!

Monday, March 24, 2014

What is Dressage?

I promised a posting on the first phase of eventing -- Dressage -- and here it is!

Dressage is my discipline of choice but its still the most difficult for me to explain.  I'm asked all the time what it is and I have difficulty explaining it to my friends and family but I'll do my best here.

Dressage has been practiced for over 2000 years.  Although clear documentation is not available, there is some evidence that ancient Greeks practiced the discipline mainly as a method of training their war horses.  It was important their horses were nimble and responded to the lightest of aids.

Imagine being in war attempting to utilize various implements of death and your transportation is a live animal with a mind of its own!  The horses were taught to move laterally with just changes of weight so the soldier could use their hands to fight.   The horses were taught to trot in place to keep their muscles warmed up without moving and to change speed and direction with changes in the position of their rider.

Today we compete in dressage by completing what we call "tests" which are specific patterns and movements.  Each "level" has a different pattern and set of movements.  As you move up the levels, the movements become more difficult and each level progresses from the level before.   Precision is very important.  For example, in nearly every test a 20 meter circle is required.  The circle must be exactly 20 meters, be perfectly round and performed exactly where specified in the ring.

There are various letters around the perimeter of the ring and the test uses those letters to show where to perform the movement.  For example, the test might say to start the 20 meter circle at A or to halt at X.   The letters on the perimeter of the ring have actual markers but the letters in the center of the ring are just known by the rider and judge to be there.

No one is quite sure what the letters mean or where they originated but they have been used for many years and are continued to be used.   There is one theory that in an ancient Germany the walls of one stable courtyard were marked with letters indicating where each courier and horse were to wait for their rider.  So K for King and F for Furst (Prince) and so on.

We also use something called the Dressage Pyramid which is progressive as well. Elements at the top of the pyramind cannot be perfected until the ones at the base of the pyramid have been achieved.  In addition, the bottom elements of the pyramid are practiced more than the ones at the top and are even top riders and horses will work on the lower ones during each ride.   Proper collection cannot happen unless you have first achieved rhythm and relaxation.

You receive a score that is based on the potential of ten points for each movement.  For example, one movement is entering at A and then halting at X.  You are judged on how straight you come down the centerline and how square and still the halt is (among some other smaller nuances).   A perfect score would be a 10.  A marginal score would be a 5 and a 0 means you didn't perform the movement at all (say your horse decided that jumping outside the ring would be a better movement!).  Each score is added up and the final score is based on what percent you received of the total possible score.  For example, if a total 120 points were possible and you got 92 then you score would be a 76% (92 ÷ 120 = 76%).

Many riders only compete in dressage but dressage is also the first phase of eventing.   The scoring in eventing dressage is a bit different than the rest of the dressage world as the lower the score the better.  They essentially subtract from the perfect score points for each error made.

Eventing itself is very similar to a triathalon.  The first phase is dressage.  The second cross country which I explain in the post - Rolex Kentucky 3 Day - and the third phase is show jumping.  Show jumping are jumps set up in an enclosed ring.  The goal is to get around the course without knocking any poles down within a time limit.   The same horse and rider complete all three phases and there are vet checks between each phase to ensure the horse is fit enough to continue to the next phase.  Lower level eventing is typically completed in a single day but for the larger more advanced events, they are completed over three days.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Spring... Where are You?

Spring, where are you?   We were teased this weekend with sunny skies and nearly 60 degree temps.  I rode in a tshirt and actually was sweaty.  I loved it!

Attempting to find the road
But it was just a tease.  As we were riding on Sunday afternoon, the clouds suddenly rolled in and the trees started swaying in the wind.   Then the wind felt as if someone has opened a refrigerator door.   The air was still warm around us but it felt as if there were cool streams of air tunneling holes into the warmth.  
And then the rain started.  A chunky rain -- filled with bits of ice.  I live about a mile from the barn where I keep my horses and had driven the tractor over to rake the arena.   So of course I had to drive the tractor back home and hadn't even thought of a rain coat so I used the ever so fashionable discarded sawdust bag over my head.  I turned a few heads as I drove down the road!

During the night, we were the lucky recipients of a freezing rain and then snow.  By the time I started the trek to the barn, the truck was completely covered in snow.   As I was driving slow in a four wheel drive, the slick road conditions weren't too much of an issue but because the snow was so deep and I was the first to drive on it I wasn't sure where the road was.  I made some good guesses and seemed to be on solid ground luckily.    

The horses had been in all night so I decided to put them out for the day despite the snow so snuggled them up in their blankets and sent them out to enjoy some hay.  

Despite the beauty of the snow I am SO ready for spring and this March snow just seems a cruel joke after our gorgeous weekend.  I am ready to ride and enjoy longer days and sun on my shoulders. 

Stay consistently on the triangle

As dressage riders we talk a lot about staying evenly on the "triangle" of the two pelvic bones and single pubic bone.   When we are balanced and deep in the saddle, all three should have equal pressure.   Of course, there are times when one of the bones will have more pressure.  For example, one of the pelvic bones will drop to get more bend on the side we drop.   Or both pelvic bones will have a deeper feeling when we are going for a driving seat.

At my last lesson I realized that I have developed a bad habit of dropping weight into my pelvic bones each time I use my whip.  I have recently discovered that Golly goes much better when I have either equal weight or lighter weight in my pelvic bones -- keeping an open seat rather than a driving one -- so this is  the exact opposite feeling I should be giving when I am asking for more forward motion with the whip.  

I think this is a bad habit that developed back when Golly still had a bit of buck in him.   When I put the whip on him he would frequently throw a buck and I started sitting back some as a defensive move to stay in the saddle.  Not a bad thing when that was happening but since he has matured and is no longer bucking, its time to drop the habit.

What is amazing is that I had no idea I was doing it until my instructor pointed it out and then I realized I do it EVERY time.   Just one more reason why its so important to have someone on the ground that can give you honest feedback on your riding.   One more thing to keep in the back of my head during schooling.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Rolex Kentucky 3 Day -- What it Is and Why I Love It!

Its coming.... nope ... not just Spring .... but ROLEX!!!   Most people in my family and even some of my horse friends don't quite get why I am so excited to attend the Rolex Kentucky 3 Day Event so I thought it would be good to give a primer about what makes Rolex so special.

Rolex is huge.  Not just in size but in the horses and riders who compete there.   Its like attending the Olympics without the need for a passport, long travel and fight for substandard accommodations.   Its historically a qualifier for the Olympic games and thus many horse and riders who compete at Rolex consequently compete at the Olympics.  Horse and riders come from all over the world.  Last year pairs came from Great Britain, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Ecuador and of course the United States.

The first time I went to Rolex in 2005 (which is when I took these pictures) I didn't even know what a 3 Day Event was.  My friend dragged me along on the trip promising it would be fun.   I got a great education on eventing but a little spoiled as the first "event" I attended was the pinnacle of the sport.

3 Day Eventing is a three part sport that requires the same horse and rider pair to compete in dressage, cross country jumping and show jumping over a three day span.  Between each phase, the horse is checked by veterinarians to ensure that they are sound and able to compete in the next phase.  It takes an incredible amount of fitness, agility and well I want to say bravery... but honestly I wonder if its more insanity, to compete in this sport.

I'll hit the other phases in a future blog but for this one I'm going to start with the most exciting phase -- cross country!

The horse and rider gallop over four miles with obstacles scattered throughout.  There is an optimum time they have to complete it and if they go over they receive "time faults".  They also get faults -- otherwise known as points off their score -- for refusing to jump a fence.   If the rider falls off their horse they are eliminated from the competition.  Each year the course changes slightly.  Last years course had 28 jumping situations and had to be completed in 11 minutes 42 seconds to score without a time penalty.

The jumps are BIG!!   You would think galloping on rolling terrain between the jumps would make it hard enough but the jumps are also solid, large fixed objects and sometimes of a shape that would terrify most horses.  Take a look at this jump from the 2005 Rolex course - I know if I asked my horse to jump this he would tell me I was nuttier than this squirrel's meal and I would end up smack in the middle of the bushy tail.

To add to the complexity, the horses are seeing the course for the first time as they approach the jump. The riders do what is called a "course walk" earlier in the day to plan out their approaches but the horse has to have the talent and trust in their rider to complete the jump.

If each jump was the same, seeing it for the first time would not be a big deal but most of these jumps have "questions" -- items that make the jump more complex than it appears on the surface.  For example, a jump may be situated in the shadow of a tree so the horse has to adjust its vision as it enters the shadow spot.   In the jump below a ditch runs under the jump at an angle so the rider needs to decide do they take off towards the right side where the ditch smaller on the takeoff side or to the left where the ditch is larger on the takeoff side but gives the horse the added chance of landing on solid ground on the landing side?

One of my favorite jumps in the "Sunken Road".    When I first saw this jump I didn't believe my friend that a horse could really jump it.  It had to be just a decorative feature.

Its a multi part jump -- first the horse jumps over the white fence you see on the right side of this picture.  They land in in the small piece of grass between the "sunken road" and the fence.    The landing area is so small that the front legs need to be lifting to jump into the pit as the back legs are landing so it takes a huge amount of trust and dexterity on the part of both horse and rider.  They jump into the pit and have one stride before they lift out and repeat the same sequence on the other side.  

Horse and rider entering the sunken road

And after clearing the pit, they continue on to the white fence
And this blog would not be complete without mentioning the "dog watching".   Spectators love their dogs and are allowed to bring them.  There is a doggy day care and people pushing strollers with their pampered pooches inside are not uncommon.

I hope this gives you a quick glimpse into what makes Rolex so awesome.   I'll fill you in on the details of dressage and show jumping next and can't wait to share my 2014 experience with you!