Why NAJYRC is so Important to me 

I have been asked numerous times why going to NAJYRC is so important to me. Everyone says, “Young Riders shouldn’t be your end goal, a 4* should be what you really want to accomplish”, “It’s not that important”, “Half the people that make it to young riders fall off the grid and are nobodys now.” Those people are correct. In the grand scheme of things no one is going to remember me for my performance at young riders. In 10 years the only person that will still recount the events that unfolded will most likely be me. But honestly? That’s fine with me. I want to show myself if I work as hard as I can for something I truly want, then I can accomplish it. I want to show everyone how amazing my horse is and how you can take a horse that knows nothing to a horse who consistently does well. I want to show kids like me that just because you don’t come from money, and can’t go buy a Rolex horse to run a 1* on, that you can still make it. 

Money determines a lot of things in this sport, but what it can’t buy you, is passion. It can’t buy you the long hours, the blood, sweat, and tears of sheer determination and hard work. It can buy you a seasoned event horse who can go on auto-pilot, but it can’t buy you the talent to ride said horse. Yes, I know, even the most experienced horses aren’t easy to ride, and I’m not saying they are. But when you go out of the startbox knowing your horse has jumped around the upper levels there has to be an added confidence. 

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the riders who are on horses they’ve had since the start. Horses they had no idea would be capable of upper level competition. I suppose there’s an added confidence there too, knowing a horse inside and out. But there is also that small voice saying, “They have never seen something like this, they have never done a course this long, will they make it?”.

 I want to make the team to further prove the value of starting a horse from the beginning. I want to be proof you shouldn’t have to send your horse to training every other week just to keep it going properly. You can learn how to be the rider your horse needs if you just work at it. I’m not perfect by any means, my trainer sits on my horse every now and then to show me how my leg yields should look, how I should ask and what I’m doing wrong. My stadium is a work in progress, but I’m not willing to give up and let someone else fix it. 

I’m aware there is a possibility I won’t make the team, but I want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt, I did everything I could. I don’t want to regret not working harder, or giving up. I just want to know Reba and I were the best we could be and we simply didn’t make it because there was someone better. I’m not prepared to give up this dream without a fight. 

To everyone that is being told your dreams aren’t important enough, let those words be your driving force. Let those people fire your passion and don’t let it die. If my journey can inspire one kid to not give up due to their financial situation, or their lack of support, I’ve accomplished something. 

So yeah, maybe NAJYRC isn’t Rolex. But when Reba leaves in August next year, I want to be able to say we made it to our Rolex. I want her to have her moment. 

 

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An Open Letter To Boarders Everywhere

We’re all trying. We’re trying to care for your horses to the best of our abilities, make you happy while also trying to make a living. Do you know how difficult it is? To wake up before the sun rises every morning to take care of horses we don’t own for little to no recognition or gratitude? To always put your happiness and your horses well being before our sleep or clean house?

Don’t get me wrong, we love it. We love getting to bond with your horses and seeing them mature. We love being able to build a relationship with you. We want to be apart of your life in a good way. We want you to trust us with the care of your horses, because we care.

It’s hard though. When you don’t come to see your own horses for weeks at a time, even though we are here everyday. Sometimes I wonder if we have a stronger connection with them now. In some cases we do. We get that you each have very different, busy lives and can’t always make it out but you have to remember your horse depends on you. They want to see you because they are bonded to you. Sure, they know we feed them, but they also know you own them– not us. Please try to do right by them.

We are friends. It may not be the most professional move, to make friends with clients but it’s inevitable. We spend countless hours with you and your horse and have countless conversations with each other, at some point we formed a friendship. We speak the same language and home is the barn for us all. When you move out, it hurts us more than it appears to. You take a piece of our hearts with you when you leave. Most of the time you say hurtful things when you go, that too hurts us. We’ve tried our hardest and you just disregard every sacrifice we have had to endure. We go nights with little sleep and days with hard labor to ensure the well being of your animal. Please don’t give up on us but if for some reason you do, be respectful.

We are thankful for you, although we get frustrated and have to get on your case sometimes, we wouldn’t be living our dream without you. We are thankful for your business, for your emotional support when we’re going through a hard time. We are thankful for your loyalty and your willingness to pitch in when one of us has pneumonia. I couldn’t have my horses and compete if it wasn’t for you wll. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for enabling me to do what I love most. 

When you move your horse not only does it hurt us personally, it hurts us financially. I know you may not take that side of things into consideration but when you leave we are losing money needed to pay our bills and take care of our families. Your $300 may not be a big deal to you, but to us its the difference between keeping our electric on or using candles in the bathroom to shower. Paying before the first of the month may seem unnecessary to you, but we have bills that are due also. When you don’t pay on time, you make us late on our payments. Please, be mindful of what you’re going to effect on our end of things. 

Our barn is our pride and joy. Chances are the owner of your farm has put a lot of time, money and effort into making the barn as clean and inviting as possible. When you don’t sweep up after yourselves you’re disrespecting our hard work. You wouldn’t go to someone else’s house, break a glass and just leave it on the floor, would you? So why do you think its okay to leave your horses poop in the washrack or his hoof dirt in the isle? Please clean up after yourself and help us keep the barn a clean and safe place for everyone involved.

People spread rumors. Boarders come and go like a revolving door sometimes. That’s the business though. People leave unhappy with how much sawdust is in a stall and start spreading rumors that you starve horses or neglect them. These people left on a bad note and feel it their personal responsibility to try and ruin everything we work to build. Don’t believe those people. If we didn’t care for the horses we wouldn’t have a boarding facility. We want to build something so very special– a legacy perhaps. Don’t make assumptions after hearing rumors from people who couldn’t afford our services. Make sure you always pick the boarding option you can afford and understand what all is entailed. Please don’t knock us till’ you try us. 

We love you. We love each and everyone of you, past, future and present. We will always be here for you, through weddings and break ups, to graduations and the losses of your best horsey friends. You can always count on us. And to the boarders who have come and gone: you have been my very bestfriends and have given me some of my favorite memories.  You all taught me so much about love, life and eventually forgiveness. I miss you all and will always hold you and your horses in my heart.

In the end, every barn owner around the world is working for you. We’re working to give you the best of everything we possibly can. But, it takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was a perfect farm. Bare with us, for we will share our world with you and will cherish your horses just as much as you do.

Finding Their Niche

There are few things more exciting than bringing a new horse into the barn. Having a new horse to get to know, and share your knowledge with to help bring them to their full potential, so they are the best they can be, is one of the most humbling and gratifying things in this business. However, not every horse fits the mold as an event horse, or a hunter or even a dressage horse. 

When we bring these horses into our lives, we are making a vow to them. A vow that says we will always do right by them. We will care for them to the best of our abilities and we will ensure they are happy in their jobs. So what happens when your eventing prospect no longer enjoys jumping? Do you keep pushing it? Making them more and more uncomfortable everytime you point them at something, until they reach their breaking point? Let’s discuss. 

I have this certain young horse that I’ve been trying to sell as an eventing prospect for 2 years now. She has obviously yet to sell. This mare could easily go BN/N right now, but you get on and you start asking her to move uphill, go more forward and jump higher and her heart just isn’t in it. This mare is 17 hands, a gorgeous liver chestnut 6 year old and nobody has fallen in love with her yet– besides me anyway. Eventing isn’t her thing. Not like I want her to event, anyway. She has no desire to run fast and jump huge fences. Instead, I’m letting her find her thing. 

I’ve started playing with her and seeing what she likes to do. The result has been astonishing. She wants to be a lesson horse. Your jaw may have just fallen on the ground. A lesson horse you say? Why would she want that? How do you know she wants that? 

To answer your questions, you just have to watch her go with me and then with one of our adult students or some lanky 12 year old that only wants to do some small shows and give her an easy time of things. She’s big, but she’s slow and careful. Each step she takes she wants to make sure you’re okay. She’s constantly asking if her head is low enough, her stride small and slow enough. She LOVES taking care of people. Sure, I can hop on and put her together. But she doesn’t enjoy that. She enjoys being on a long rein as someone is learning to post. 

I’ve wanted her to be an awesome event horse for 2 years but I value her happiness more. Slow trots, small jumps and long reins are her forte. I truly believe this horse has found her niche. As a happy-go-lucky, kick along lesson horse. Her only expectation is to behave and take care of this lady learning to get her collected. Never in a million years did I see this coming, that my stubborn red headed baby horse would find her heart in lesson students. But now that it’s happened, what do I do? 

I’m going to let her be happy. At this time she’s still for sale but geared towards a different market. She’s looking for either a home as a lesson horse with a light work load and a variation of riders, or an adult amateur looking to just plop around with a trusty young horse with an old soul. 

So, if you have a horse that isn’t as happy as it could be in their current job, play around with them. Try something different and let them pick. There’s so many horses out there that want to event competitively, there’s no reason to make a horse do something their heart isn’t in. Oakley found her niche, don’t you think every horse deserves the same thing? 

Becoming A Student of the Sport

Our first meeting with Robin Walker and Cathy Wieschhoff during Area VIII Young Rider Camp- South they began preaching the phrase “Become a student of the sport”, and honestly at first I didn’t know what they meant. I am a student of the sport, aren’t I? I mean, I train with Cathy on a regular basis, I am her student– therefore I’m a student of the sport, right? Wrong. Maybe not completely wrong because I am correct, I’ve been her student for almost 2 years. However not until recently have I become a student of eventing itself. 

I’ve never enjoyed reading horse books or articles, and heaven forbid you convince me of the benefits of documenting my lessons in, oh dear, a notebook. I mean honestly, what’s the point? Well my loyal readers, the point is remembering and practicing it correctly. You’re never actually remembering a complete memory itself; you’re remembering the last time you remembered it. Which means every time you will leave things out, change things slightly, until eventually it’s not a complete accurate memory anymore. So, by writing down what occurred in your lesson DIRECTLY after, you can remember everything as accurately as possible by referring to your notes. It’s actually a fool proof way of doing your homework the way you practiced with your trainer. *you’re welcome* 

That’s one very effective start to becoming a student of the sport, but what are some others? In this day and age we have endless amounts of tips and insight from top professionals at our fingertips. We have Eventing Nation, The Chronicle of the Horse, Horse Collaboration, Evention TV, The Heelsdown Magazine, EventingUSA, and many other wealths of knowledge that are accessible to EVERYONE. You can go on usefnetwork and watch hours of clinic footage and endless videos of our top riders in the WORLD. You’d be surprised how much you can learn just from watching our nations best riders do some dressage tests. You can also read about exercises and things people like George Morris and Lainey Ashker do with their horses at home and how you can do the same exact exercises. Learn to be a sponge and never stop soaking up information. 

Expanding your tool box is a huge part of training yourself and your horses. Clinics and lessons with anyone you can get to will help with that. Almost every horse person has at least ONE thing they can pass on to you which you might need sometime down the road. 

So if you’re ever in a lesson and the trainer tells you to become a student of the sport, you may have a better idea of what they mean. We never stop learning but it’s important you never take something you’re being taught for granted. We have trainers for a reason, and they have already done their homework and continue to learn. No one can make you want to learn more about this sport, you have to want it for yourself. So go out there and take advantage of some opportunities– maybe even invest in a notebook. 

The Storm That Hasn’t Stopped

It has rained everyday for weeks now. I’m surprised the whole state isn’t underwater because it barely has time to recede before it continues to rain. Our fields are muddy, our horses are muddier and I’ve lost count of how many pulled shoes there have been. I wish I was exaggerating when I tell you it has rained so much our rain gear is no longer water proof. My brand new rain jacket hardly qualifies as a rain jacket at this point because the only water it resists is my tears while it torrential down pours for the 100th day in a row. Want to wash your saddle pads? Just throw some soap on them and leave them outside because heaven forbid we go a day without the sky crying.

Heartbreaking enough, our temporary farm lacks any sort of flat place, much less an arena. Mud + endless hills = inevitable slipping = no riding. I’m about to make the move up to prelim and I have two young horses; not being able to ride is putting a real damper on my training and conditioning schedules. 3 uncontrollable redheads is way worse than my normal one unruly baby. We have made the executive decision to move Reba to my trainers farm in order for us to actually prepare for River Glen. If you are lucky enough to have an arena, whether it is covered or not, I hope you are counting your blessings because the majority aren’t as lucky as you. Shout out to all of the exercise riders, you are every other Kentuckians hero. I applaud your tenacity and perseverance through such difficult times. Keep it up, you’re the real MVP.

I’m sure there are people out there who feel my pain. Remember the monsoon at Spring Bay and round 2 at Midsouth and round 3 at Champagne Run? At least half you people were privileged enough to either live vicariously through the internet or escape almost unscathed after the show! The rest of us have been stuck here, LITERALLY, the mud is all consuming.

Prayer Warriors, now is the time to band together and lift every horse person in Kentucky up in prayer. Especially those at NAJYRC this week. Lets pray for sunshine filled days that dry the mud up and get those kids safely across the finish line on Saturday. I will be working the vet box and trying not to be taken out to sea.

On that note, goodluck to Area VIII riders: Hope Walden, Jackie Lemastus, Mary Peabody Camp, Emily Hagan, Emma Partridge and Paige Pence. Show them what you’re made of and have more fun than you thought possible!

*UPDATE: mother nature knew I wrote this and gave us clear skies for jogs today and all of our team members are on to Dressage!!*
Photo of Stevee Candrl by JJ Sillman

The Redhead Diaries: When They’re Called Home

You buy a horse, you imagine your future together, all the things you’re going to accomplish and all the memories you’re going to make. You spend all your extra time with them, buy them blankets, halters and everything else with their name on them. You start living your dream with that horse. You compete, play, do photoshoots and somewhere along the line you fall in love. You can’t imagine your life without that horse or how you ever lived before they came into your life. Time flies by, years of love and care go into this horse that you love with your soul. Then one day, they’re just gone. 

The hole left in your life is indescribably large. You swear nothing has ever hurt so badly, but at the same time they finally aren’t hurting. Moving on seems impossible. How are you supposed to be able to let go? Do people think you can just forget everything? Why does everyone think this is so easy? You just want everyone to give you time to grieve, a piece of your heart is gone. Don’t you at least deserve some time and space?  

I recently had to put down a horse that once upon a time was going to be my upper level horse. Ironically enough, when I first started my horse search, this was the first horse I was supposed to look at but he had been shipped to New York on a trial. So I skipped him, and looked at a ton of other horses. Then one day, we got a call saying the horse was back and they asked if I was still interested. 

Ramsey was 5 years old when he came to my farm and never left. He came off the trailer so lathered in sweat, it looked like he had just been soaped up for a bath. Poor thing was so nervous, I was sure this was going to be a disaster.

 I don’t know what we were thinking, honestly. I was only 14, this wasn’t the horse I needed at the time. But, we fit together and I was hooked. This huge bay Thoroughbred, that never raced a day in his life, was the most athletic horse I had ever sat on. He wasn’t extremely fancy, he probably could have been but he always had an extreme amount of energy pinned up inside of him. That translated into choppiness and lots of broncing around. 

It was evident that we belonged to eachother. He hated most other people, especially my mom. He would charge her, bite her, one day he hit her in the back with his front leg while she was trying to clip him. He always hated blankets too. When anyone would try to buckle the hind leg straps he would threaten to kick. He always let me do it though. Don’t get me started on baths! He was so bad for baths that my mom repeatedly tied him to the fence and stood a good 20 feet away to spray him off. He was an angry little thing, unless it was me. 

He loved me, I always knew that. That’s why I wanted to be there when we put him down. This horse looked to me for everything, he was my bestfriend and nothing could change that. Not the rearing, the bucking or the disappointing shows.

 When he got hurt 2 years ago, all my dreams were crushed. We were told that he wouldn’t be an upper level horse, and due to his confirmation he probably would keep tearing the ligament thus never being completely sound for extended periods of time. They advised us to put him down then, to make it easier for all of us. That way he wouldn’t have to live uncomfortably and he wouldn’t put anyone else in danger with his anger issues. But I had hope. I held out hope for as long as I could but everytime he seemed sound, it wouldn’t last long enough to keep him in work and he was SO naughty. 

We put him down because of all of these things. Because when we tried to trailer him to the new farm he almost broke his neck and punctured his hind leg. Because McCoys Trademark was a one person horse and he turned on me that day. 

I’ve cried. More tears than I’ve ever shed and I continue to cry 2 weeks later. I feel like I did the right thing, I made the right choice with his best interest at heart. I feel him everywhere, now he can come to all the shows he was missing out on. I feel him while I hack my little pony around the new farm, while I’m watching XC at Midsouth. He’s probably running around the courses like the machine he was. Man do I miss him like crazy too. He taught me so much about myself, about love and now loss. I’ll carry him with me forever. I hope you’re loving it up there big guy, you are the stars in my night sky.

 I love you, Ramsey. 

Novice at Fall River Glen 2012 (photo by Wanda Chiles)

The Redhead Diaries: My Secret to Good Dressage

Dressage is arguably the most meticulous, detail oriented phase of Eventing. It’s often referred to as the most difficult part or the most disliked. It really takes a perfectionist to appreciate the finer things in life such as dressage. I can admit (as I’m sure many others agree), lower level dressage is like watching paint dry or grass grow or cement sit. I’m not sure how the judges are able to endure one 20 meter circle after another ALL DAY LONG, it’s exhausting really. 

Luckily for me *insert sarcasm here* , I have been blessed with the opportunity to only show Beginner Novice and Novice on 8 different horses, for the past 5 years. No, seriously, I could probably ride a lower level XC course with my eyes closed at this point. 

I haven’t always had a reliable, good scoring horse as I do now though. A lot of work has gone into getting consistently low dressage scores.  I was just looking through my competition record, in 2012 I was competing my Thoroughbred, Ramsey and we were consistently scoring in the high 40’s. Much to my dismay, we never placed well. After years of working with a classical dressage trainer, I’m now able to ride an accurate, consistent dressage test on my mare that normally lands us in the 20’s. I never knew what it was like to come out of dressage happy, and looking forward to the next dressage ride on my horse. 

In my opinion a big, I’m talking MAJOR part in having good dressage, is your confidence level. If you go around with your hands low and looking down the whole time while managing to slouch like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, you’re not going to score well. Not only is that poor equitation and completely incorrect, it looks like you’re trying to hide from the world. You can’t show off your horse like it deserves if you’re riding in the fetal position. 

My wonderful dressage trainer, Ellen Murphy, has instilled in me the importance of presenting your horse confidently. Heck, even if you’re not that confident you can fake it, it’s a 3 minute test for pete sake. The difference you will notice when you quit hiding and present your horse to the world is amazing. You can OWN a dressage warmup like nobody’s business if you look up, with a straight back, smiling, with your hands lifted. I can promise you that you will resemble an angel sent down from dressage heaven. 

Now you all know my secret. Unfold yourselves and stop hiding from the judge, the competitors, and the scores.  Own the ring like Beyoncé owns the stage. You CAN do it, you CAN improve, you CAN be the queen of fancy-ness. Ride it like you stole it people and never slouch ever again.