Monday, November 20, 2017

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Why it matters

Sep 07 2017
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After my very stressful and challenging start to the 2017 show season, so many friends have come forward with words of sympathy, empathy, and encouragement.  I am forever grateful for their friendship, kindness and support.

During this time, one phrase that I often heard was “it doesn’t matter.”  That my relationship with my horse is #1 and that training and competing are not important in the long run. 

I understand where this comment is coming from, but for me, it does matter. 

It matters because I took a leave of absence from my job and spent 4 months as a 33-year-old working student to learn how to be a better horseman and rider.

It matters because I sold my house and moved my new husband and I half way across the country to be in a full time lesson program and compete regularly.

It matters because I bought and imported a horse site unseen so that I could have a suitable mount to compete at Training level.

It matters because of all the early mornings and late nights at the barn; of all the hours icing legs, soaking hooves, and cleaning tack; of all the times I pushed through despite bad weather, aching muscles, and a tired body.

It matters because of all the missed date nights and vacations with my husband, the missed holidays with my family, and the missed evenings out with friends.

It matters because of the monthly vettings, the joint injections, the custom podiatry shoeing, the chiropractic, acupuncture and Magna Wave treatments, the Adequan shots and the Smartpak supplements.

All of these things wouldn’t have happened if I wanted to walk hack, trail ride, or even compete at the Novice level, but my goal is to compete at Training Level and to be competitive (no stops or eliminations).

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So while it may not matter to my horse (he just wants to eat, sleep, and be treated well), my friends or family, my co-workers or the man on the moon, it matters to me.  I vow to myself to continue to fight to achieve my goals.  To work hard and never give up.  While my riding goals for 2017 may not have been met, I will regroup and come up with a new plan to put myself in a position to reach my goals in 2018 and beyond.

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To plan or not to plan?

Jul 12 2017
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A wise person told me at the beginning of the year not to have a plan for this show season.  She told me to not put any pressure on myself or my horse and just to take everything a day, or a week, at a time.  I wish I would have listened to her, but telling me not to plan is like telling me not to breathe.  It just isn’t possible.  And I don’t just plan, I strategize and research and prepare and organize every minute detail.  I can’t help it.  Planning helps me feel in control and makes me feel like I’m getting the most out of every minute of my life.

In typically Kelly-style, I had BIG plans for this year – 2 week intense training session in Florida in February, a couple of Training level events in April and May followed by the Training Level Three Day in June.  Another prep event at Training level and then off to East coast for the American Eventing Championships (AECs) at the end of August where I would finish in the top 20 of my division (a girl can dream, can’t she?).

Cullen and I being rock stars at Richland Horse Trials in 2016
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As you can imagine, NOTHING has gone to plan this year.

January: My trainer had an injury which caused her to cancel the Florida trip 
February: I convinced a friend of mine to spend 2 weeks in Florida with me in February, but the trip was more of a vacation than a training bootcamp 
March: We noticed that Cullen wasn’t 100%.  After vet and farrier work we got him comfortable again.    
April: Being conservative, I dropped down to Novice at the last minute for Spring Bay HT and completed the event   
May: A friend and I headed to Penny Oaks HT, only to have cross country canceled due to regional flooding    
May: I was excited to move up to Training at May Daze HT, but a routine vetting found that Cullen wasn’t 100%, so we scratched the event 
June: My trainer invited me to join her at River Glen HT, but convinced me to run Novice to have a fun and relaxing weekend.  We completed the event.   
June: Time to move up to Training at Midsouth HT.  Dressage was rusty and we had an issue in show jumping which resulted us parting ways.
July: I scratched Champagne Run HT as I was advised not to ride for 2 weeks after my head injury at Midsouth HT and would not have time to prep
August: I attended a combined test schooling show to do Novice.  Dressage was good, but we didn't make it around SJ.
September: I scratched Kentucky Classique HT since I have a shoulder injury from the schooling show that needs time to heal. 

Cullen and I parting ways at Haygards Team Challenge Horse Trials in 2016 (PC: Jj Sillman)
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So here we are.  My horse and I are healthy (knock on wood), fit (him more than me) and ready to go (mentally more than emotionally).  But I have no plan and no path forward.  I have convinced myself to take a time out.  As suffocating as it may seem, I am going to be patient and take things one day, or one week, at a time.

Stay tuned to find out what happens in the second half of 2017.

Year In Review: 2016 Recap

Jan 02 2017
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As 2016 comes to an end, I look back and I am very thankful for the amazing year and the abundance of opportunities.

I spent most of the year working in Hartford, CT, but I also went on business trips to Atlanta, GA, Philadelphia, PA, Nashville, TN, Orlando, FL, and Houston, TX.  I stayed over 110 nights in a hotel and flew on over 65 airline segments.  In May, I completed a Harvard Business School course and in December I was promoted to Managing Director.

Even with a busy life at work, I was able to ride over 150 days this year including 10 horse trials and 1 combined test.

In between working and riding, Nathan and I added a new addition to our family – a German Shepherd Dog named Charlie!  We also spent a lot of time doing home repair projects including remodeling our upstairs bathroom.  In January, we took a vacation to an all inclusive resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic and in July we spent a long weekend at Kentucky Lake with the Reiter family.

Charlie, the newest family member.  Nathan and I in Punta Cana.
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New bathroom post-remodel.
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The riding season kicked off with our annual training trip to Aiken, SC.  Cullen had an abundance of confidence and enthusiasm!  He easily jumped through Training and Preliminary cross country questions as well as jumping around our first Training/Prelim sized show jumping course.  What an adrenaline rush!

Prelim roll top and Prelim oxer in Aiken, SC.
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When we got back to Kentucky, Cullen dragged me around the Novice cross country course at Spring Bay Horse Trial and we quickly determined that I needed a slightly stronger bit so that I can participate in the conversation.  Switching from a loose ring snaffle to a 2 ring snaffle helped tremendously.

In May, Cullen and I tackled our first Training Level combined test and Training Level horse trial.  What an exceptional experience!  Once I got through the butterflies (aka sheer terror) I was able to relax and enjoy the ride.  As Megan pointed out, I would approach the first fence with a look on my face as if I was marching towards my death, but I would end the course with a huge smile on my face. 

May Daze Horse Trial – our first Training!
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Cullen and I continued to gain experience at Training Level throughout the summer.  The highlight was our big WIN at Richland Park Horse Trial in August.  It was our 5th event at Training Level and by far the most challenging cross country course I’ve ever ridden.  Cullen and I stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park adding just 0.4 time penalties to our dressage score.

Richland Park Horse Trial – our first Training win!
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Another highlight of the summer was scoring a 29 in dressage at Jump Start Horse Trial!  This was the first time I scored in the 20’s at a USEA recognized event with any horse.  It is an extra special achievement with Cullen since he did his first dressage test only 18 months prior.

Scoring a 29 in dressage at Jump Start HT!
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At this time, Megan and I were spending a lot of time discussing how to best keep Cullen happy and healthy as an athlete.  How often does he get ridden? Is he staying fit enough?  Does he need chiropractor or acupuncture treatments?  Is his shoeing sufficient?  Are his feet getting sore from the hard ground during the summer months?  After consulting several professional vets and farriers, we chose a plan that we felt was best for Cullen. 

Though we finished the year strong with 3rd place finishes at Jump Start HT and Middle Tennessee HT, Cullen made it clear at Midsouth Team Challenge HT that he wasn’t feeling 100%.  We had uncharacteristic stops during cross country and show jumping.  After the event, an adjustment in veterinary care and farrier care got him back to his happy, healthy self.  We will continue to watch Cullen closely in 2017 to ensure that he stays that way.

My goal for 2016 was to be able to confidently compete at Training.  When I look at the year overall, I can see that I definitely accomplished that goal!

- Ranked 7th Training Rider in Area 8
- Ranked 3rd Adult Amateur Training Rider in Area 8
- Ranked 8th Training Horse in Area 8
- USEA Blue Ribbon Award
- USEA Silver Medal Award at Training
- Ranked 2nd MSEDA Senior Training Combined Test 
- Ranked 2nd MSEDA Senior Training Horse Trials

Thank you to all of my friends and family for your love and support in 2016.  Here’s to 2017 being the best year yet!

Middle Tennessee HT 2016 Recap

Nov 27 2016
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It has always been a goal of mine to attend the Middle Tennessee Pony Club Horse Trial.  It is known as the longest running horse trial in the country.  I’m glad I got to attend this year to help them celebrate their 64th year!  The event took place at the Percy Warner Park in Nashville, TN. The gorgeous facility included a permanent barn, tent stabling, large warm up areas, and a cross country course with the mountains in the background. 

The best part of the event was that Team CEO brought 5 riders, 6 horses, and a handful of other family members and friends to support us.  Horse shows are always more fun with friends!

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Dressage: Dressage was held in a large, flat grass field.  This is the first time that Cullen has competed in dressage on the grass.  I put small grass tip studs in his shoes to keep him from slipping during transitions, but I think I had a little too much stud as he felt a little stiff during the test.  Other than the studding challenge, and our free walk which needs work, I was super happy with our test.

Cross Country: Cross country took place on Saturday after dressage.  I was super nervous about the course as there were several obstacles that I had never jumped before in a competition, but I had no need to worry.  Cullen ran around the course like a pro and we easily finished more than 10 seconds under optimum time.

Jump #3: My first picture frame jump in competition.
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Jump #10: This trakehner had a really pronounced ditch.
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Jump #16: Full coffin – Hanging log, straight down hill to this open ended ditch, then over the second hanging log.  This is the first time we have jumped a coffin with terrain changes in competition.
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Show Jumping:  Show jumping took place with lots of jumps packed into a small arena.  I knew I was going to have to keep Cullen focused and cantering in an active stride to make it around the course.  The course rode to plan with only 1 rail down.  

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Cullen and I finished the event in 3rd place!  So exciting!  Hopefully we can make it back to compete at this event again in the future.

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What’s Next: Cullen and I have one horse trial left for 2016!  We will compete at the Hagyard Midsouth Team Challenge Horse Trial at the Kentucky Horse Park at the end of October.

Jump Start HT 2016 Recap

Nov 01 2016
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Cullen and I had a lot of fun competing at the Jump Start Horse Trial.  The weather was gorgeous and there were a ton of Team CEO riders to hang out with and cheer on.

Thanks to Jj Sillman, Howard Moore, and Rachael Sowinski for all the pictures!

Dressage: Cullen and I put in a beautiful dressage test to score a 29!  This is the first time I have ever scored in the 20’s at a USEA recognized event (with any horse)!  Hopefully I can repeat this many more times in the future.  :-) 

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Show Jumping: Cullen and were a little out of sync and had an uncharacteristic 2 rails down, but overall, I was very happy with our round.

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Cross Country: Cullen and I had a great time around the cross country course.  We had a fast, clear round to finish the event in 3rd place.

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I am so excited with how well Cullen is jumping coffins (jump combinations with a ditch).  We spent most of 2015 trotting ditches to teach him how to figure them out while still moving forward.  In 2016, he’s handling the combinations smoothly.  What a huge improvement!

What’s Next: Cullen and I have 2 more horse trials in 2016!

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