Monday, January 31, 2011

Where will all the hunt caps go?

Hunt caps are out - helmets are in. It's the law of U.S. eventing and dressage now. So, where will all the hunt caps go? Will they be resurrected at CCI*s (where top hats and tail coats are "not encouraged" as they were in 1994 when I had my one chance to wear both!). Will they live on in unmounted awards ceremonies? Will anyone even bother to pack it any more? It's interesting - I'm sure the USEA Event Checklist used to include helmet/hunt cap - now it just says helmet. It's a good change - it's the right change - but, where will all the hunt caps go?

Everyone is wearing a helmet in dressage these days!

I was a pony club kid, and my mom is a nurse. When most kids were still riding around in velveteen hunt caps with elastic chin straps, I had the not-so fashionable and often laughed at "egg head" look. No black velvet for me - it was impractical and too hot! My mom opted for the plastic "eggshell" colored space-astronaut helmet (the "eggshell" color was supposed to keep me cool - it didn't). The padding came out a good 3 inches on all sides of my head, and vents were still 20 years away in design. I was also the first kid in Texas with a protective jumping vest (I drew the line at the padded underwear that came with it - I think I still have PTSD over those - I can see them perfectly in my mind even now - if you want the details, buy me a martini!).

So, how did my hunt cap sneak its way onto my head in the dressage show ring? It was a 20 year stealth operation. No way could I have convinced my mother to buy me a hunt cap to RIDE in - but I was able to convince her to buy me one for showing our miniature horses in their halter classes. Awwwhhh, aren't they cute?!

A few years later, my hunt cap made an appearance in some high school portraits with my event horse - slowly but surely making itself look normal with the big horses, even though it had yet to ride on the back of one! And then it sat in a closet for 10 years.

Older, wiser, smarter (?!) and back to competing with my mom now 3000 miles away - I dusted off the old hunt cap and took it for its first ride, for no particular reason. Over the past 4 years, it's been part of my dressage attire - occasionally, my helmet would feel like the hat of the day. But, most shows, it's been the hunt cap. I can't explain it, because I wear my helmet every time I ride, without exception - except in the dressage show ring! I can't say it's a fashion thing - I think the sleek black helmets of today are pretty sharp (SO thankful the egghead style has been refined!). I have no misconceptions that I'm too good to get hurt (ha ha ha - wanna compare battle wounds?!). And having studied cognitive science and neuroscience pretty extensively, I'm keenly aware that brain injuries are serious business. So, it's good the rules have changed. And maybe the new helmet look actually makes us look a little smarter?!

So, back to my original point: Hunt caps are out - helmets are in. But, what will happen to all the hunt caps? Will there be a surge to sell them on ebay as a relic? What about antique shops? Will they sit abandoned with old tack or collecting dust high on a shelf? Will you even be able to buy a new one if you wanted to? It's not it's fault - it did its job well. So, how about a little dignity for the hunt cap in retirement?!
Michael's is having a 40% off sale on shadow boxes and display cases, and wouldn't you know it - my hunt cap is the exact same size as a football, for which they make a display case!! So, today I retired my hunt cap in dignity. I gave it one last roll with the lint remover, and put it to rest in its glass case with a white padded bed (I added the white padding - footballs don't want to sleep on white padding!). It's a bit like Snow White. Maybe I'll take it out some day - for an unmounted awards ceremony or photos. But, maybe it will stay locked in its glass case forever.

After all, the helmet is looking pretty smart these days!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

RESCHEDULED: Golightly Lessons @ Equidistance

Today's lessons at Equidistance are being rescheduled. Due to a series of unxpected events (broken truck, mini-flood...), Equidistance asked if I could reschedule - I will edit this post to reflect the new date when it is confirmed, but it will likely be Saturday February 5 or 12.

I was really looking forward to meeting the several new riders who signed up for lessons - and I had such fun things planned for them! January just doesn't seem to be the month for lessons this year!

If you are interested in signing up for the rescheduled date, please contact Ilkim at

My original blog post has more information about Equidistance and lesson details/price.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

White Winter Wofford Wednesday

If anyone has an "in" with the weather gods - I'd like to schedule an appointment to hash out a few things. 2 days in January. That's all I asked for. January 12 for Silva Martin. And January 26 for Jim Wofford. Despite the rest of the East Coast's ill fortune, the DC area has a pretty easy winter so far - except for January 12 and 26. Remind me to check my lotto numbers and remove these two.

For almost a year, I've been trying to get Jimmy to come service those of us on Southern Maryland with a gymnastics clinic at Katchi's home at Baywood Farm. And today was the big day - I have to admit that I had an extra bounce in my step last night setting the jumps precisely to the specifications ordered by THE POTENTIAL NEW US EVENTING TEAM COACH! Wow - what timing to be the host of Jim's first clinic after the big announcement! My bounce was a little less by the end of the night - 40 standards and 30 poles later, we were ready to go (let me tell you, the next time I want to whine about trailer-in fees to attend a clinic like this - I might give the host a bottle of vodka with my check!). The weather forecast was calling for just 30% chance of drizzle through the morning. After being up at 5AM to ride, fight traffic to DC to sit at my office job all day, fight traffic back to the barn to set all the jumps, home just after 10 pm, one last weather check - all systems go for Wofford Wednesday!

Tuesday night ring set up - measure, measure, measure again (and Jimmy still asked if I used a tape measure and had to move some a few poles!)

5 AM - phone ringing. Hello? Yes, the clinic is still on (didn't you read the email yesterday?!). What's that you say about rain, ice, and snow? Hold on, let me open the blinds.... WHAT THE *!#@!& IS THIS? What the @#(&!% happened? SNOW? On Wofford Wednesday?! NNNNNNOOOOOO!!!!

Total panic, chaos, frantic phone calls, and massive reorganization ensued until 8:30 AM when Jimmy gave me a kiss on the cheek and all was well with the world again! 4 riders succumbed to the elements, but Jim and Baywood graciously agreed to refund their money in full. More bagels and cream cheese for the 8 riders and handful of auditors who braved the elements!

I know anyone who is reading this post probably only wants to know two things 1) what does Jimmy's bid for Eventing Coach mean for the "rest" of us and 2) what lines did we do today. I will answer both!

Coach for the rest of us?
I couldn't help it. I asked the question. I'm so excited about the prospect of Jim as Team Coach, but what about the rest of us? Jim's answer was fair, heartfelt, honest, and realistic. The details of the job are uncertain. The position is far from guaranteed as his. Should he be selected, he will put his heart and soul into the job. His availability for clinics and lessons for "the rest of us" will be reduced - at least for the first year. I chose to grab onto the "for the first year" part. If I can only manage to not mess myself up too terribly in one year - yea right! I'm surprised Katchi didn't laugh out loud!

Wofford's Wednesday Lines.
If you have Jim's Gymnastics book - today's lines were slight modifications of Exercises 12, 13 & 14 - condensed to fit within the indoor arena's dimensions. Jim's objective today was to lengthen and compress our horses. All this was done over very small fences - oxers up to 4' wide, but only 18" tall, and 2' tall bounces. Jim wanted us to take advantage of the winter non-competition season to return to the basics of teaching the horses to look after themselves. So, most of these exercises were done with a soft to loose rein, letting the horse find his way and answer his own questions.

I'll let some videos say the rest. Here are a few clips from the first group.

(THURSDAY ADDITION: I should have noted yesterday, in case you don't recognize them from other videos on my blog, the big chestnut in some of these clips is Atticus with my student Kerry - I always find it so interesting to hear comments from top instructors like Jim Wofford to my own students and it's a great sense of accomplishment for me when they do well and receive comments consistent with my own assessment of them!)

Second video has clips of Katchi. I was really proud of him today! Jim commented that he looks good this year - better! No barfing over fences! Not to say that all problems are solved, but this was a great day of confirmation that we are moving in the right direction. I especially like the last line coming towards the video - it's been probably over 6 months since I've gone through double bounces and I love SO much to lean my upper body at the jumps! In the first set of bounces, Jim says - stay tall! Oh, oops! I know that - I'm constantly yelling at my students to stay tall! So, within the same line, I go from rowing the boat, over the hogs back, to oh so nice and still and tall over the second set of bounces! It's fun to see such a dramatic change all in one line of fences!

(THURSDAY ADDITION: Power out at my house last night and still today, so couldn't finish posting this video. Now here are some clips of me and Katchi in the second group).

Measuring lesson: measure the distance from the hogsback's middle rail - oops!

One new thing I learned from Jim today was really interesting - one of the horses in the second group was ENORMOUS! He hasn't quite figured out what to do with his giant body yet, and sometimes he wanted to twist over the fences. Jim said that to fix this, some people make the distances really short, and while that does work sometimes - with some horses, it actually increases the problem as they twist more to fit into the tight space. He said by shortening them the problem can be made worse and often actually solidifies the technique permanently for the horse. Jim prefers to do the opposite - stretch the horse out long (aka, short wide oxers - back to the 18" tall, 3-4' wide), because by stretching the horse, you stretch them straight. Then you can teach them to compress straight. Sounds a bit like a rubber band to me - stretch it out and it goes straight. Huh. Sure makes sense!

I especially enjoyed watching the other riders in this clinic, because the quality of riding was outstanding and the horses were each so different! It really gave Jim an opportunity to perfect very precise details that made huge differences in the horses! It was absolutely fascinating to watch!

It currently looks a bit like a blizzard outside my window. Maybe the weather Gods will pay me back with a No-Work Thursday! Thanks so much to everyone for coming out to ride today - and to the auditors who played jump crew too! We were so lucky to have Jim brave the elements and the DC beltway to give us a winter tune-up. Our horses thank him too!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Visions of Ribbons in January

If I was suffering from any mid-winter motivation loss, Saturday fixed me! Oh, the table of beautiful Area II year end awards! My heart sank when I saw the stunning embroidered champion fleece dress coolers - I cursed my time penalties once again! Oh, to have come home with one of those coolers! The picture below includes two of the beginner novice trophies - not too shabby, eh?!?! Although, I guess no-one told the sculpture about what makes a good lower leg!

Did you know that to be eligible for the Area II year end awards, you have to sign up?! It takes just 8 hours of volunteer time and $20 - and the awards are entirely self-funded. So, the more people who sign up - the better the awards are! If you're planning on competing in 2011 - sign up!! You can see pictures of and read about the 2010 winners here.

So... what did Katchi win?? One ginormous beautiful yellow ribbon for his 3rd place year end finish! Below is a picture of it along with the glass bowl that holds some of Katchi's other ribbons.

Ribbons and coolers aside, Area II put together an excellent educational day. I attended 5 sessions: Adult Riders Forum, Riders PT, Concussions and Head Trauma, Conformation, and Professional Horseman's Council with Phyllis Dawson - also talks by meeting sponsor's Cavalor and Ecogold. I was a little surprised at the demographics at the meeting - I was a first timer, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect - but I was definitely surprised. About 60 people attended - including about 4 men and 4 junior riders (and parents). A small handful of professionals attended. And the rest of the seats were filled with adult amateur women. I guess I was most surprised that I didn't know or recognize more people - which was one of the key topics in the Adult Forum - the prevalence of one-day horse trials in Area II makes it really hard to get to know each other! So I'm happy to say that I came home knowing a few more names and faces that I hope I will recognize in helmets!

All of the sessions were excellent and Patricia from Ecogold had out the video camera, so I expect they will post videos soon on their blog. The Rider PT session was not your typical fitness discussion - it focused on how injuries effect our bodies and how little changes in us can cause big changes in our horses. I'm going to save my comments on this session for later, because I'm trying to arrange a little remedial training for myself! The conformation session was also outstanding, again because it wasn't the same ol' - an eventer should be able to breathe, and have good solid bones, and a nicely set neck... Dr. Rebecca Splan took us through countless images of good and bad horses for all kinds of uses. Horses that many of us cringed over turned out to be stunning performers - at something! Her approach gave a unique perspective to understanding how a combination of conformation factors come together to let horses perform a tremendously broad spectrum of jobs.

Before I lose you with a 100 page blog post... I want to relay a few things from the concussions and head trauma session. Dr. Gerard Gioia's presentation stressed the importance of realizing that concussions can occur from a blow to the head AND any rapid movement of the head which causes the brain to move inside the skull. He spoke about return to play practices in other sports and indicated that the discussions the eventing world is having now are the same discussions going on in sports across the nation and world. He steered us to vast resources available from the CDC -

With the new eventing helmet rule, potential reconsideration of the one-fall you're out rule, and the lawsuit in California against the trainer of a rider who died on a 2-star XC course after she continued jumping after being eliminated (the trainer is accused of allowing the rider to compete on a horse that was not properly ready for competition)... I've been thinking a lot about how I advise and protect my own students. Dr. Gioia provided us with guidance from the CDC on how to identify potential concussions, and on my drive home from the meeting I thought through things I do regularly with my students if they fall and before we start again to see how they correlate to Dr. Gioia's cautions. Sometimes it's interesting how we do things instinctively without even realizing all the reasons we do them. So, I came up with 4 things that I usually do anyhow, but that, if considered from the right perspective, might help me identify a concussion in a student:

1) Instruct the rider to walk her horse around the arena or to the end of the field and back, before remounting.

2) Ask the rider to describe what happened just before and after their fall.

3) Ask the rider to explain their course, line, or what they are going to differently on the next attempt.

4) Let the rider sit down for a minute to allow the adrenaline to dissipate (if they have a concussion, as the adrenaline dissipates, they may feel overcome by fatigue).

These 4 tasks are simple instructions that could easily be given to a rider without alarming them that you are looking for warning signs of a concussion (confused about assignment, answers questions slowly, can't recall events prior to or after fall, moves clumsily, headache, nausea, fatigue, concentration problems, and others listed on the CDC site). Dr. Gioia indicated that passionate athletes will often say "oh, I'm fine, I'm fine!" - but they may not look right - and it's important that trainers, coaches and parents be aware of the symptoms that just aren't right. And for those of us who ride by ourselves so often, it wouldn't hurt to try to test yourself out for a minute before you get back on - tell your horse what happened (if you think he can confirm whether you got it right - you might have a brain injury!) and don't be afraid to bench yourself for two minutes!

One final note on the meeting - I'm hoping I earned Katchi and myself a little EN Karma for the 2011 year end awards - Cavalor feeds was there as a meeting sponsor. When they asked me if I'd heard of Cavalor, I said "Yes! Because you sponsor Eventing Nation!" and I was promptly handed a goodie bag with the cutest little mini grain bag ever - complete with the stitched thread at the top! The mini feed bag is as small as a ribbon - or my big ribbon is as big as a sack of grain! I was really impressed with the look of the grain - if they'd put it in a glass bowl, I might have thought it was trail mix! I'm excited to see what Katchi thinks of this Belgian trail mix!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Golightly Jumping Lessons @ Equidistance

A few months ago, I mentioned that two of my students - Debi and Ilkim - took the plunge to open their own boarding facility in Brandywine, MD - Equidistance Horse Center. I've been over there several times to give them individual lessons, and it's a lovely place! As they are settled in now and have welcomed several new boarders, they invited me to have a lesson day on Saturday January 29! The have graciously opened their place to trailer-in's for a $10 fee which even includes a stall if you need it!

If you are interested in a private jumping lesson ($35 + trailer-in fee) or free auditing - please contact Ilkim at I hope we'll be doing many more of these sessions - so if you can't make this one, "friend" Equidistance Horse Center on Facebook for first notice of other lesson days!

Photos of Equidistance Horse Center barn and indoor arena.

This will be a fun day and I hope to meet some new horses and riders - and challenge them to develop new skills! If you have any questions about what what the lessons will cover or whether it will be helpful to you and your horse - drop me an email at

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow, Dressage Tears, and Camp Dates

It snowed last night. Stupid snow. I'm not supposed to be here right now. Katchi and I are supposed to be working our tails off, hearing Silva Martin's German-Australian accent say "I know it's hard, but stay with him, keep asking for more, sit down, bigger trot, keep going...." But our last winter training day with Silva was cancelled. I don't think we'll be able to work with her again until April. I cried. Yep, that's right folks - I shed tears over a cancelled dressage lesson - who does that?! Then I opened a bottle of wine and ate a piece of fudge - I skipped out on my nightly Pilate's routine - I didn't feel any better. It's hard to explain just how much I look forward to my lesson days with Silva. They are tremendously hard, amazingly gratifying, totally hilarious, and a wonderful escape from the reality of my "real" life of work, deadlines, and traffic. I look desperately forward to them from the moment they are scheduled. It's good to love something in your life that much - to have passion about something. It's amazing to me how many people have nothing at all in their life that they love as much as I love my dressage lessons with Silva! So, yes, I admit to a few tears when I got the news that today's big day was cancelled.

So instead of posting videos of Katchi and me showing off our ten-meter canter circles (okay, maybe 11 meter - trying not to be the girl who runs over Silva Martin who is standing just barely safely at 12 meters!) and work towards enough balance for the counter-canters required in both Prelim and 2nd level tests... how do you feel about dressage featured in gangsta-rap?! As much as I love dressage, it's just too easy to make fun of!

As consolation to my dressage depression, I woke up to an email from my mom this morning - she and I have been stalking Phillip Dutton's website, waiting for the announcement of the 2011 camp dates! She found them first - posted last night (I know, because they were not there yesterday morning, afternoon, or evening when I checked!) - I think my mom's already booking her plane tickets to come out from California to be a camper's groom!

So - mark your calendars - the 2011 Phillip Dutton Camp is June 12-17. More info will be on Phillip's camp page soon. I certainly don't want to get so many people interested in the camp that I don't get a spot, but it really is an amazing experience, especially for those of us who are not fortunate enough to focus on our riding and horses all day because things like office jobs monopolize 8 hours or more a day. To be immersed in a training facility such as Phillip's for 5 days, without splitting your focus between horses, work, and other responsibilities - it's amazing the progress that can be made in such a short time of intensive training. Here's the link to my 2009 blog "Cherie and Katchi Get Duttonized" and my recent post about getting "re-duttonized" at his 2-day clinic last November (I was SO excited when this post got a nod from Eventing Nation!). With 2 new saddles and a new trailer purchased in 2010, I had to sit out the 2010 camp. It just about broke my heart when I ran into Jennie Brannigan and some fellow 2009 campers the weekend after the 2010 camp and they were full of laughs and stories from the week's events - I called my mom that night and said, we're going back to camp in 2011! I just can't bear to miss it!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Katchi's 2010 - the good, bad, ugly, and ridiculous!

2010 was Katchi's first full year of eventing - he completed his first 4 events in the fall of 2008, but his 2009 season was cut short while we sorted out some preventative vet issues - it was crushing at the time to skip out on the fall season - but as someone said to me - live to gallop another day!

Katchi is not exactly an easy ride. He's smart and scopey. A good combination, but tough. Boyd Martin says he has more scope than any of his 4 star horses, but he's awkward. No joke. Towards the end of 2010, we finally made some real progress with Katchi learning how to use his power and me learning how to ride it! His enormous jumps almost feel normal to me now, and I've almost mastered keeping my ass out of the saddle as we sail through the air!

So, 2010 in pictures - actually just from 2 events - Rubicon (Spring) and Waredaca (Fall). Photo credits to GRC for the awesome snaps!

Katchi The Good.
We all love pictures that make us look good. Beezie Madden-look alike? Not exactly! Are there things to fix? Yep! But here are a few of my 2010 photos that make me say - oh yea, we're looking good!

Katchi The Bad.
We've made our mistakes this year, but there are only 2 times when I feel Katchi really let me down. One was at Fair Hill in August - it took 2 refusals and 51 time penalties to get over the first fence in show jumping. A green rolltop. The fact that Karen O'Connor almost fell off at it on a Training level horse is some consolation. She watched my round and when I came out of the ring, she said - what the hell is it about that rolltop? Uh, I'm sorry Karen O'Connor, me and my 51 time penalties sure as hell have no idea!
The other time Katchi let me down this year was at Rubicon. XC was tough, but we were getting there - we'd jumped the ditch combination, corner, mound, sort-of sunken road... and then Katchi made other plans at the bank. He hopped over the sort of skinny table, and mid-air, he decided the novice bank to the right was clearly a much better option than the Training level bank straight ahead. As Jimmy would say, "hey knucklehead, I walked the course, I have something to contribute to this conversation" - my words were more colorful.

Katchi The Ugly.
This section is inspired by Phillip Dutton's Wall of Shame. As you walk between Phillip's indoor arena and main barn, there's the Wall of Honor and the Wall of Shame. Souvenirs of Olympic games next to photos just like this one of me and Katchi! I've got the Wall of Shame sorted - Olympic medals might be a touch harder to gather up.

Waredaca was Katchi's best run of the year, minus one fence - the "wedgie" - Katchi jumped the logs at the top of the hill brilliantly and then he he got lost. Katchi said "gallop, gallop, gallop, oh, logs... ping... weeeeeee! these hills are ffffuuuunnnnn! MOM - what's up with the left rein - I got this... weeee!!! la, la la... shit mom, get off me - what's your ppppprrrrroooobbbblllleeeemmm??? what? what? shit - what? fence? - damn - late notice - late notice - I'm GOING - HOOOOLLLLDDDD ON!" Meanwhile, I said, "Katchi's a cat! love him! love him! love him! Katchi there- to the left - to the left - hey my man, to the left - SHIT Katchi, I'm not joking - jump, there' s a jump, there's a JUUUUMMMPPP - SSSSHHHHEEEEETTTT!" And here's the picture to prove it.

Katchi The Ridiculous

Remember how I said Katchi has more scope than Boyd's 4 star horses. Check out the next 2 photos - this is when I say, "seriously, really?" - Katchi, could you drop down 3 feet, tuck your knees a bit, and freaking chill out? Try it some time, jackass. You might like it. I know I would.

These standards are 6', right? Remind me to never take Katchi at a 6' fence. I don't even want to know what might happen. Textbook picture of getting "jumped out of the tack." Nice.

I know it looks like nothing's there, but Katchi swears there's a horse-eating ditch in that field! And I thought this felt like a normal relaxed Katchi ditch jump. Turns out my OTTB is some sort of Spanish Riding School bay mutant with a blaze!
So, that was Katchi's 2010 - the good, bad, ugly and ridiculous! Lets hope 2011 brings a lot more good, a lot less bad, no ugly, and well, I guess I'm stuck with the ridiculous.