Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Boys Do It Again

Cynthia and I were able to make it to the jog up with time to spare! It’s always a treat to see the horses and riders “in their Sunday best”. I was amazed, though, at how many horses didn't show up--the competition began with about 70+ horses, and I think only about 30 actually presented. I know quite a few retired on course, there were a few falls, and so forth, but....gee....

We were treated to a lucky sighting of one of the T3DE by 2010 pact members, Anastasia Curwood (of Team Taco), and a few COTH friends (Epona Cowgirl and...Jeannette?). It's always fun to meet up with like-minded online folks!

The pre-show (national anthem, presentation of flags, etc.) was really nice. I felt sorry for the PC'er who dropped her flag because her pony was being adult came to the rescue, and led her around...but I could tell it upset her pretty much. I hope she knows we ALL know how she feels!

Cynthia and I had some great seats for Stadium, and we were there early to make SURE to watch and learn.

One thing I absolutely loved: several of the horses, as they circled after the salute, were flapping their lips in anticipation. Yes, they were tired, but NO ONE can say they don't love their jobs!!

Henry Jota Hampton, Peter Atkins' mount, had perhaps the best "lemme at 'em!" expression, followed closely by Cavaldi and Napalm. Other horses, while eager, were obviously pooped. Not Kyle Carter's horse, though; Madison Park did an excited sidepass the length of the SJ arena before actually jumping!

The announcer let us know that Ollie Townend was in the stands watching, and he got a nice ovation.

Several of the riders had trouble with the striding at the triple combination, and a lot of rails came down there. There were a lot of horses who wanted to run XC again, too; several riders had trouble checking their horses before fences. I remember Kim Severson saying stadium was where her horse was going to have difficulty, and she was right; they had several rails down, knocking them out of the top ten. KOC and Mandiba, too, had a couple rails, dropping them out of the first five. And Becky Holder, who I was hoping against hope might win her first Rolex, dropped one rail, but she still ended up in third. Still, she was happy about her performance; I guess SJ is her downfall, too.

William Fox Pitt made it look easy. The man is tall, but DANG is he balanced! He was forward, but in control the whole time. It's clear that Cool Mountain and WFP are quite a team.

From there I learned that a quiet ride is better than a frantic one; that if I stay balanced over my horse, he'll jump better; and that an odd body type doesn't necessarily mean that you can't be a darn good rider.

Philip Dutton was second yet again, thanks to KOC and Kim. He, too, was quiet and steady and balanced in his stadium. Boyd Martin and Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch all had exemplary rides as well.

BRAVO to all who finished! And bravo especially to the horses. How lucky are we to be able to partner with such incredible animals?

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Once again, I learned a lot from watching every horse got over my fence on cross country today!

And luck was with us, too, in terms of the weather. The day began spitting rain (sometimes quite vehemently), but never so bad that I was worried for the riders. I knew it was coming, though...and so did the organizers. They decided to run the competition through the lunch hour, hoping to beat the BIG storm moving in by the afternoon.

It worked.

Not only did the early morning riders have to deal with very little rain, but by later morning, the sun came out, and once again my tender skin was fried.

As I watched riders walk my fence, I noticed a few things:

KOC walked it, then went back to about 10 strides out and, from what I could tell, visualized her horse going over it.
All of the Aussies went to the right (my side), and they all went VERY close to the tree. Several of the US riders walked it almost like a bending line.
William Fox-Pitt walked it both ways, but ultimately decided to go to the right (must be the Aussie influence!)

When the riders rode it right, it rode smoothly, almost like a bounce. When they didn’t, a couple things happened….either it was crazy awkward, scary, or “an adjustment” (that’s what Jimmy Wofford calls it when riders wait or go long WITH their horses…they’re still in balance, and even when they aren’t perfect, by staying balanced, they don’t LOOK out of balance/scary).

The first few riders seemed to take it as a two or even three stride, because they used the turn to collect their horses (though some seemed to have a problem collecting them this early in the course). Still, by getting the hind end under the horse, the jump (which was only 3’11) became more of a bounce. They also gave their horses some time to “see” the fence after the turn while they were checking, and then used that “you’ve seen it, now jump it” attitude to go forward.

The first rider who was a bit frightening was Debbie Rosen and The Alchemyst. They came barreling in, and while Debbie tried to check her horse, he wasn’t listening, and they took a long jump into A, and a step and a half into B (and she lost her reins, it was so awkward). Luckily, she was able to get them back and I believe she continued with one jump penalty and some time faults. Still, she didn’t look like she was in control, which was scary after the first few jumps.

Becky Holder and Comet were lovely coming through; I can’t help but hope she does well. So did Kristi Nunnick. Both women/greys bounced it in rhythm and balance. Same for Port Authority and Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch (in fact, the announcer said they looked like they were “out for a hack”!). Holly Hudspeth and Last Monarch were in that camp, too. I was sad to hear the announcer saying that Kristi and R-Star had a fall in the Hollow. I hope both are ok and come back next year—I was thoroughly impressed with the pair!

I noticed that Kyle Carter’s position is a lot like Phillip Dutton’s….a little bit back seat, but very, very still and balanced. I wonder if the former has worked with the latter?

I was one of the divot-stompers, and I was reminded of what Jimmy said last year during a course walk: if you want to know how a course rides, talk to the experts…the horses themselves. Look at where they took off/landed. Listen to the stories their footprints tell.

The divots told some pretty interesting stories!

We were lucky in that while it rained a bit in the morning, by 10 the clouds were breaking away to partial then full sunshine. Almost all of the riders wore studs, however, and a lot of them slid while checking before and sometimes between the fences. Some took off long to the first element, and landed VERY close to the other side; others came amazingly close to the tree in the middle. Will Faudree and Pawlow took only one stride between fences, jumping the B element long, but because he was balanced, he and his horse galloped on in balance.

Leslie Law was one of the few riders who approached A fairly straight, then bended into B. Phillip Dutton on Waterfront was having a difficult time—he wasn’t, I think, giving Phillip the energy he wanted, and he whacked the horse over B, then gave him a wake up spurring afterwards. I think the horse must’ve been having a bad day, for the pair retired later on course.

Karen O’Connor and Mandiba slowed down so much before A she had to cluck to her horse to make the striding to B! But I was amazed with the precision with which she rode. She know what speed and energy she wanted, and she got it. She was also amazingly quiet and “with” her horse. She is a rider to emulate!

I was looking forward to watching The Good Witch and Jennifer Wooten-DaFoe take fence 5, but she and her horse had a fall at fence 3, the skinny mushroom, and I guess her horse stepped on her, too. The two were taken to the EM/Vet respectively, and I believe both are fine.

Mara Dean and High Patriot took only one big, balanced stride between A and B.

Poor Oliver Townend, though! On his last ride of the day on Ashdale Cruise Master, the horse didn’t seem to have the “umph” that Ollie wanted; he flapped to A, then practically lifted his horse over B himself! I heard that the pair had a rotational fall at the Hollow, and I guess the horse fell on Ollie. He had to be taken to the UK medical center. I THINK his horse is ok. I’ll be thinking good thoughts for him.

I’m going to surmise that the more experienced riders took their time, but PLANNED—they began to check before the turn; they used the turn before the fence to let the horse “see” the fence; then they used their legs and reins to find a good line into the combination. I need to work on that “planning”, as well as making sure I have a good, appropriate, rhythmic pace. AND I need to be sure not to jump ahead, but to stay in balance with my horse.

Saturday evening we had a lovely dinner with Larry, Rox, Rachel, JR, Trent, Aaron, and Kate. Poor Cynthia was worn out, though; she ended up lying down and sleeping through dinner!

We want to attend the jog tomorrow at 8:00, so she’ll need to make sure I’m up in time. Until tomorrow…..

Friday, April 23, 2010


Life is really all about choices. And it’s the choices we make that determine what we do, who we are, and what happens.

The great thing about choices, though, is that we can *always* make another one.

Today, which once again started out gloomy and wet, we started the day once again at Quillin’s to pick up our “swag”. Paddy now has a lovely black halter to go with his lovely black tack! Because of our side trip, though, we didn’t get to the park in time to see Leslie Law ride, which I was sorry for.

While we were walking to the stadium, we passed next to the warm up ring, and we saw Kristi Nunninick and her horse R-Star warming up. They were an eye-catching pair, as R-Star has that unmistakable Riverman stamp. And I read about Krsti in the Chronicle of the Horse: she’s a 48 year old mother who’s bringing along the horse she trained to her first Rolex, a real dream come true.

The pair were lovely in warm up: very supple, very “up” but soft. In the ring, they got a bit more tense, and they had some trouble with counter canter…but they still scored well! I’ll be cheering for them for sure.

We were supposed to have gone on a course walk with Smartpak, but since we watched Krsti and R-Star, we were late. We saw a smallish crowd near jump 5, and assumed that the weather had cause attrition, so we joined them….and ended up going on a wonderful course walk with Bonnie Mosser (who used to be a world class skier, and is now a world class equestrian). This coursewalk was sponsored by hayguard (thanks!), and it was incredible.

She walked the course explaining how she’d ride it (ride aggressively to the first element; keep legs on and make sure I’m straight to the second; etc.). She talked about walking the course with her coach at the event, Jimmy, who said things like “if you have 20 penalties, be the fastest one with 20 penalties”). That’s Jimmy!

She pointed out “scope” questions (like the table-ditch and wall-table) and “accuracy” questions (like the angled brushes). She would always say “here’s how I plan to ride this fence”. She also waded out to the drop side of the head of the lake so that we could see how far the horses had to jump down…wow.

She also took us through the alternate routes for jumps as well, which there seemed to be quite a bit of now. “You should always have an alternate plan in mind” Bonnie asserted.

When asked how many times she walks the course, she replied that her walk with us was her fourth, and she’ll likely do at least one more (if not two more). And she’s been here four times before! The first walk was by herself. The second with her coach. The third was with a wheel. The fourth was with us. And she’d at least walk once more in the morning.

“How do you keep fit?” I wondered. She said that she normally just rides, but before Rolex she starts to run, and she can feel a big difference in her wind strength. I asked her how this year’s course compared to last year’s, and she said it was more complicated, but not as “maxed out” as Badminton.

I really enjoyed the coursewalk, and I think I learned a lot. I hope Bonnie and Merloch do well tomorrow!

We got back to the dressage late, so we didn’t get to watch William Fox-Pitt’s stellar ride on Cool Mountain that put him into first place….nor did we see Allison Springer’s ride on Aurthur…but life is, after all, about choices, and I’m really glad we stumbled on the great course walk with Bonnie Mosser.

We DID get back in time to watch Kim Severson’s ride, however, and it was really nice. When they trotted into the dressage arena, Kim saluted, and I swear Tipperary Liadhnan dipped his head in salute, too! I recall previous Rolex rides with “Dan,” not a particularly big mover, that placed her in the top three, and once again she rose to the occasion, this time with a bigger mover. She was very accurate, relaxed, and she rode the test well. Even though her horse fought both of her counter canters, earning her two low scores, she scored well and will be a force to be reckoned with. Go Girls!

I was interested to watch Amistad, ridden by Michelle Mueller of Canada, because he looks like Paddy’s twin, and I believe he’s an Irish boy, too. He was impressive to be sure, but he looked a wee bit inexperienced; when his rider stopped to salute at the beginning of the test, he literally swung his head around to see the stande/film crew…and he did the same at the end. I don’t think he left on a lose rein, either, though he was nicely in the bridle and supple during his test.

I wanted to make sure to watch Olliver Townend’s last ride, and it was nice, consistent, accurate…though his horse was wringing his tail the whole time. Also, Ollie had a big hat….there’s that big hat theory again….

Boyd Martin did a nice job on his final ride: not flashy, but consistent.

After the dressage, my old fence judging friend, Nancy, took me to the fence judge meeting, and I have fence five, the Angled Rails. It’s the first real technical question on the course, and I’m sure I’ll learn a ton!

Later this evening, I got to meet up with a friend from Ohio State days, Roxanne, and a WONDERFUL restaurant in Georgetown, Circa 1840. Super food, and incredible girl talk…we even got to know a future eventer to watch out for, Kerry Benedikt, a waitress there who informed us that William Fox-Pitt was celebrating his first place standing with a medium rare steak. Afterwards, we went back to Roxanne’s place (GORGEOUS) and were entertained by her two rescue dogs, her husband, and some mighty fine bourbon (Four Roses Single Barrel). Life is good, and I like my choices so far. Let’s hope all the riders like THEIR choices tomorrow!

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Thursday of Rolex began as it always does: with a trip down the road to Quillin Leather. It was a quick trip, to be sure, but darn it if I didn't somehow end up with ANOTHER halter...! I lusted after the leather backpack once again, but spent my $ on Paddy rather than me. Sort of.

Because we'd ordered early, we had front row center seats for dressage...though once again, I'm a wee bit sad to say, the seats were NOT filled, so we could have picked our seats, so to say.

The lower seats are uncovered, and for a while, I was afraid we'd be drenched (because we WEREN'T leaving!)...but the sky spat at us several times, but eventually the tug-o-war was won by the sun, and the afternoon resulted in my first sunburn of the spring.

Now...on to the horses!

Once again, I marveled at the fact that these incredibly fit, explosive horses were able to be submissive and supple enough to "do" dressage, to dance in the ring. Some, however, were better than others!

Like last year, the Argentine horse and rider had real difficulty staying in the ring (and on the ground!). He's obviously fit, but I'm not sure his dressage training is up to this level.

I watched Jane Sleeper's warm up, because I'm STILL thrilled that she's competing at 60. Her warmup was actually quite nice...but like me (and a million others, I'm sure), once she entered the "white gates of terror," she stiffened, and her horse reacted likewise. Her horse was a tense-looking and above the bit (which they weren't in warmup). Their transitions were nice, but I noticed the took a few steps of lengthening to lengthen, and several to get back as well.

Becky Holder and Courageous Comet were the first highlight. The pair were amazing.

Becky is one of my heros, because she's brought this TB up to Rolex standards, and she's done a magnificent job.

I could tell they were nervous; in warmup, they had a few "bobbles". But like the professional she is, she put it together for the test.

Comet is a pretty darn amazing TB, with incredible movement. His extended trot was breathtaking! His lead changes were on the mark and "lilting". And he was obedient and submissive, though we knew that he could "explode" over fences (or dressage arenas!) if need be.

Becky and Comet took over the lead until almost the end of the day.

Another rider I wanted to watch was Will Faudree, a former West Texas rider. His old Rolex partner, Antigua, is now retired, but Will appears NOT to be a "one-horse rider"....his new parnter, Pawlow, and he put in a respectable test. Jimmy Wofford noted that the pair didn't have the "tools" to put them in the top 10, but that they were a pair to watch. Will's dressage ride proved his point in both ways.

During the extended trot, which was great, Will pushed so much that his horse broke into a canter. He fixed it immediately, and he rose to make the rest of his test quite good. I do think he'll end up being a contender for a long time to come, perhaps like Phillip Dutton, his coach: always in the top few.

Phillip and The Foreman were solid--very obedient, very good transitions, and very foweward--and the final pair of the day ended up in third place. I once again wondered about hat size and male ego, but that perhaps is better left until tomorrow and William Fox-Pitt!

But the best ride of the day was put in by another one of my heros, and one I've actually worked with (and who kicks my butt--in a good way--every time) was Karen O'Connor.

Mandiba (bred by William Micklem, another hero) has finally come into his own thanks to the great training he's received with Karen and crew. Softly supple and obedient, he didn't take the two steps to get up to speed in his extensions, and he put in a really wonderful, solid test. I noticed Karen's hands (those white gloves tell a story, they do!) continuously adjusting her horse--but SOFTLY, not like I tend to do. And did he ever listen!

As she exited the arena to applause, she stopped to talk with the two pony club kids who opened and closed the arena, and she let one pet her horse. Once again, I'm reminded that Eventing folks are THE BEST people in the world--and what a better ambassador of our sport than Karen O'Connor. She is simply amazing.

It was really insightful sitting with Cynthia, a massage therapist, while watching dressage. She would point out horses that were "broken at C2" and others who were tight behind the saddle, not allowing them to come "through"...and she always predicted which horses would do well, and which wouldn't. I'm going to start looking for that in my own riding!

We stayed at the horse park to watch the CDI*** Freestyle test (in anticipation of WEG). These folks were pretty impressive! It was educational to watch horses that JUST competed in dressage, as opposed to the top level eventers. But even some of these horses were tight in places, and not uniform in their movement. AND it was clear as to which ones were completely under themselves and which ones weren't.

We ran into Nancy, my old fence judging friend who always tells me about her son John's journey to Rolex (alas, another injury left them out of it this year), and it turns out that John is the force behind one of my favorite sites, Eventing Nation. EVERYONE should go there and see his amazing "bad" Rolex really gives you a taste-and-feel for what we're experiencing here!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On the Road Again!

Once again, I am on a pilgrimage to Lexington for the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event!

I first began this pilgrimage to the pinnacle of Eventing five years ago in 2005, when I had recently gotten tenure at TTU and planned my sabbatical around “visiting my brother” who lives in Paris, KY, just 30 minutes from the Kentucky Horse Park…the home of the only four star event in the United States. I hoped to serve as a fence judge, so I could not just *watch*, but actually *participate* in this hallowed event. I was able to, and thus began my yearly pilgrimages to the Holy Land of Kentucky.

I love being a fence judge. First and foremost, I feel like I AM participating in this glorious venture. Like the “Shake and Bake” commercial of my childhood, I stand around bursting with pride when people talk about Rolex, thinking “and I helped!”

But it gets better.

By watching the best in the world compete at all three phases, I have found Rolex to be one of the most incredible learning experiences ever.

Last year, for instance, while watching the dressage, I had a “breakthrough” as to what “supple” meant. It’s not just gumby-like bendability, but a contained, flexible energy that allows for suspension and impulsion.

Wow. SEEING that with these horses, and NOT seeing it with others helped me to understand how dressage is scored, which in turns helps my own riding.

In previous years, I’ve noted the importance of transitions, of practicing the “non-sexy” stuff, and so forth, all via my watching the best riders in the world in action the last Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in April.

And while this year will be no different in that respect, I have several things to be really excited about.

First and foremost in my mind is my new eventing partner, My Shamrock Paddy (Paddy for short). Paddy is an Irish Sport Horse I purchased last year at the end of May, and as we near our first year together, I can honestly say that this horse has helped me (and is helping me) achieve my dreams. THANK YOU to Kathleen Zins, who helped me find/try Paddy, to Melissa Campbell and Darrell Vaughn who “vetted” me to see if I would be worthy of such a horse, and especially to my family, who has been incredibly supportive in allowing me to “follow my bliss” in all my horse ventures. I was able to achieve a “life goal” last fall by completing my first ever Training level horse trial before I turned 50 this year, and I just completed my second one last week (which we would have placed second in but for a “senior moment” by yours truly where I got confused, pulled Paddy off THE CORRECT JUMP, realized my mistake, then finished the course easily). I feel like I’m able to put into play much of what I learn at Rolex with this amazing horse, and my goal is to do a Training 3 Day Event with Paddy. Hard to believe that just a couple weeks after my first Rolex experience I was looking forward to competing in my very first horse trial. Life is good.

I will likely need to remind myself that life is good several times this weekend, for it looks like the heavens will be opening on us every day but Thursday. That makes me sad, because there’s NOTHING like the beauty of a sunny spring day in Kentucky. I hope the adverse conditions don’t result in any serious equine or human mishaps!

Looking forward to seeing my brother and his family once again. They are ever-gracious in their indulgences, allowing me to stay at their house then seeing very little of me every April.

My long term Rolex buddy from TX isn’t with me this year, but instead I have a new partner, Cynthia, who I met in New Mexico while Paddy and I were doing our first ever Training horse trial. She is amazing, and I’m looking forward to spending time with her. A former partner-in-crime from TX, Karen, might be joining us as well. Karen and I are the founding members of the Fossils Over Fences. Let’s hear it for the older women!

Speaking of that, I was reading my hero Jimmy Wofford’s annual Rolex competitor analysis, and I realized that Jane Sleeper, who’s competing UN, is 60. GO JANE!! Several other women are in their late 40’s, and Karen O’Connor, another hero, is 52. Kristi Nunnink, riding R-Star, is doing her first Rolex ever at 48. I’m pulling for the women this year.

That said, I can’t begrudge Oliver Townend his chance for an Eventing Grand Slam, winning Badminton CCI**** and Burghley CCI**** and Rolex CCI**** in the same year. He’s won the first two, and I wish him well at Kentucky.

I would also like to see Will Faudree and Pawlow have a good Rolex, since he’s formerly a West TX fellow, and I’m a big fan of Leslie Law, Boyd Martin, and Will Coleman. Finally, I will be pulling for Karl Slezak to do well, too, since he took the time to show me a horse while competing at Rolex last year. He was gracious and kind, and I’m sad the horse didn’t work out for me (but THRILLED to have found Paddy soon after).

Jimmy picked Oliver to win it (and the Grand Slam), but I am pulling for the ladies. I’m impressed with a lot of the Irish horses, and Michelle Mueller of Canada’s ride, Amistad, could be Paddy’s twin, so I have a soft spot for them.

Here’s to good rides whatever the weather, enjoying friends and family, and learning even more as I watch the best riders in the world.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Looking forward to 2010!

This is where the 2010 Rolex Report will appear! Stay tuned!