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Icing on the Cake

Dec 22 2012
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2012 was a very exciting year for me.  I gained invaluable experience at work in my first year as a Senior Manager, I spent 4 months living and working at a thriving Eventing barn in Lexington, I learned a ton about myself, my riding, and my horse, and now I’m back at work in St. Louis taking my career to the next level.

So what could be better than that, you might ask?  The icing on the cake came during the second weekend in December in Vancouver, B.C.  My boyfriend and I were in Canada to attend an annual holiday party for the company with which he works.  On Friday, we visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park to see all of the holiday lights.  On Saturday, we spent the crisp, sunny morning driving along the coast, riding the cable car at Grouse Mountain, and hiking at Shannon Falls Provincial Park to see the waterfall. 

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At a scenic overlook point by the waterfall, my boyfriend got down on one knee, pulled a ring out of his pocket, and asked me to marry him.  Of course, I said yes!  Nathan and I have been dating for 15 months and I knew that I want to spend the rest of my life with him. 

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Nathan, Abby (my dog), Cassie (his cat), and I are one big happy family living in my townhouse in Illinois.  We are excited to plan a destination wedding in Riviera Maya, Mexico for August 2013.  We also hope to have a reception in St. Louis in September 2013 to celebrate with our friends and family.

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I have a 25+ mile drive into St. Louis every day to work long hours at my client site Monday-Friday.  That makes it hard for me to see Owen during the week, but I make sure to carve out time for him on the weekends to trail ride, practice dressage, school gymnastics in the indoor, or jump around the practice jumps in the pastures.  I am very lucky to have a large support system at Avalon Farm with people who help watch over Owen and take care of him for me when I am gone.

What’s Next:  In addition to planning my wedding and honeymoon, and I also planning to take time off work to head to Aiken, South Carolina in March with Team CEO Eventing for an intense week of training to kick off the 2013 season on the right hoof.  I can’t wait to see my KY friends and their horses again! 

Heritage Park Horse Trails Recap

Nov 08 2012
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On October 26, my boyfriend and I packed the truck and trailer and headed to Olathe, KS with my horse and my dog for the Area IV Novice Championships at Heritage Park Horse Trials.  This was my last horse trial for the 2012 show season.  There were lots of ups and downs over the weekend, but overall, I am thrilled at how far Owen and I have come this year.

Friday: It was a very cold and windy weekend.  I had to scrape frost off the truck windshield every morning and wear Under Armour® under my show clothes throughout the weekend.   When I rode Owen on Friday, he had his head high in the air and ran around full of energy.  I knew that this was going to be an exciting weekend.  After a quick phone consultation with Megan (my Team CEO family was with me in spirit!), I learned that I needed to do lots of circles and transitions in warm up to get Owen to listen to me and focus on his job.

Dressage: For the first third of my dressage warm up, Owen ran around full of energy and wasn’t listening to me very well.  For the second third, Owen started listening and going through the motions of circles, bending, and transitions, but he was still very tense.  For the final third of our warm up, Owen was his usual workmanlike self.  I was feeling confident going into the dressage arena to ride my test. 

As you can see from the video, Owen and I were able to perform a very consistent Novice test, except for the overly excited right lead canter transition and circle.  Silly horse.

Kelly and Owen–Heritage Park HT–Novice Championships–October 2012

Cross Country: After walking my course several times and talking through my strategy with Megan on the phone, I knew the first jump would be the most difficult for Owen and I.  Owen doesn’t like to feel trapped or claustrophobic and the first jump flanked by trees really made Owen take a second and third look.  But we did it!  After a little hesitation over the first fence, Owen and I sailed around the rest of the course!  Owen has never been to Heritage Park in his life.  I was very happy that he trusts me enough to run around this course at 400 mpm (more like 420+ mpm since we had 0.8 speed faults) confidently. 

Compared to the regular Novice course, the championship course had 2 extra combinations which Owen did with ease.  (1. two stride off set roll tops, 2. up bank 5 stride bending line to a bench)

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Thanks to my wonderful boyfriend for taking this video.  He told me he almost fell off the jump he was standing on a few times.  What dedication!  The video shows jumps 4-15. 

Kelly and Owen–Heritage Park HT–Novice Championships–October 2012

Show Jumping: The show jumping course was set on the frost covered grass on a fairly steep hill.  I knew that several Novice horses may have problems with the terrain, but I was confident that Owen would be a super star.  I really felt that this was one of our best show jumping rounds to date – until the very last fence.  The last fence had a bright green roll top set right next to the woods.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get Owen over the fence after 3 tries, so we were eliminated.  If the green roll top had not been on course, Owen and I would have ended the competition in 4th place in the Novice championship division.  That is a hard pill to swallow, but I was super happy with the other 95% of our weekend so it is hard to be too disappointed.

Kelly and Owen–Heritage Park HT–Novice Championships–October 2012

What’s Next: The very next weekend I made a trip to Lowe’s to buy a 6’ by 6’ piece of green Astroturf.  I will be using this all winter to drape over jumps at our farm to practice.  I will spend the winter weekends relaxing and riding at Avalon Farm in Millstadt, IL.  Occasionally, we will take a day trip to go cross country schooling or ride in a local jumper show.  The 2013 eventing season will start in April and I already can’t wait!

Lowes

Team Challenge Horse Trials Recap

Nov 01 2012
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On October 18, my friend and I got up at 4:00 am, loaded the horses onto the trailer, and headed to Kentucky to compete at the Hagyard Midsouth Team Challenge Horse Trials.  The plan was to go a day early so that we could get jump lessons from Megan at Team CEO on Thursday, and then dressage lessons from Megan on Friday, before competing Saturday and Sunday.  Unfortunately, we never made it to our jump lessons as we got two flat tires turning our 6 hour drive into an 8+ hour drive. 

One blowout on the passenger’s side of the trailer in Indiana and one blowout on the driver’s side in Kentucky.  Luckily the horses, my friend and I were all safe and sound.

Tires

When we finally arrived at the Kentucky Horse Park, we were pleasantly surprised to find all of the Team CEO stalls decorated.  Since my Novice team’s theme was “Animal Kingdom,” Owen’s stall had zebras and monkeys.  How fun!

Stalls

Friday: On Friday, I started my day by watching a couple of Prelim Team CEO riders do dressage.  Then I tacked up Owen and had a dressage lesson with Megan.  I was super happy with my ride.  My transitions, especially my downward transitions, are getting much better.  After putting Owen away and grabbing a quick lunch, I was able to volunteer as Gate Stewart for the afternoon CCI* dressage tests.  What a great experience to see all of the upper level riders compete.  It definitely gives me something to strive for.

Dressage:  Owen and I rode our dressage test Saturday morning.  Owen warmed up well and then we headed to the dressage ring.  As we were trotting around the outside of the ring, Owen spooked at a pile of white vinyl fence boards.  Right after the spook, the judge blew the whistle so we had to head into the arena to start our test.  Owen put in a steady and consistent test, but I could tell that the entire first half of the test he was tense from the spook.  

Look at those muscles!  At the end of the weekend, my Kentucky vet performed a wellness exam on Owen and mentioned that Owen is looking and feeling great.

Dressage 2

Kelly and Owen–Team Challenge HT– Open Novice D–October 2012

Show Jumping: After our dressage test, Owen and I had a few hours to relax before heading to show jumping.  Owen warmed up well for this phase, but I could tell that he was very strong and full of it given the cooler temperatures and the wind.  I was pretty happy with our show jumping round despite riding a bad line to jump 1 and having one unlucky rail when Owen got a little strong coming to jump 5.

Here is a video of my show jumping round.

Kelly and Owen– Open Novice–Team Challenge HT October 2012

Cross Country: Sunday morning was cross country time!  My team and I spent over an hour getting our costumes prepared.  We had a cheetah (Owen), a zebra, a tiger, and a giraffe.  It was strange not wearing my signature Navy blue and Kelly green, but it was fun. 

Here is a picture of Owen and I showing off our cheetah costume.  I bought a stencil off of eBay and blond highlighting spray from Walgreens to paint Owen’s body in a reverse-cheetah motif.

Costume 1

Owen was very strong and spooky in the cross country warm up.  I think a lot of it had to do with the weather.  It was 81 degrees in St. Louis just days before horse trial, and then it was 40 degrees and windy for the horse show.  I think all the thoroughbreds were feeling fresh! 

Once on course, I ended up with very sticky rides to jumps 1-4 (including a stop at jump 3).  Once I got Owen focused, we had a very fast run for jumps 5-13 (I was happy with the enthusiasm so I decided not to have a discussion about the speed).  Once we got to the fiesta table, Owen decided to half halt himself and listen to me for the rest of the course, jumps 14-18. 

Owen and I jumping the fiesta table.  Less than a year ago I was terrified by how big the table was.  Now we jump it with ease.

Fiesta Table

Owen and I cantering towards the water complex.

Water Approach

What’s Next: I will have 4 days to relax, do laundry, and repack for my next horse trial – the Area IV Novice Championships at Heritage Park Horse Trials in Olathe, KS!

Brody Robertson Clinic Recap

Oct 15 2012
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This weekend I got the opportunity to ride in the Brody Robertson clinic at Brody’s Altamonte Show Stables just outside of St. Louis.  Brody is a top ranked Grand Prix rider and trainer, judge, course designer, and winner of both individual and team gold medals at the US Olympic Sports Festival in 1989. I have taken lessons with Brody (infrequently and as time permits) for the last 3 years.  It is always an privilege to school Brody’s professional show jumps, on his gorgeous property, and to feel like my horse and I make huge strides each and every time we we ride with Brody.  Brody has a systematic approach to training horses which includes “chipping away at the things you want to improve; just as an artist is chiseling a piece of stone to create a masterpiece.”

Brodys Field

I rode in the 3’-3’3” group with 3 other riders.  The weather was gorgeous both days and the footing in the grand prix field was perfect.  Owen was soft and relaxed both days.  I was able to move his body around (laterally and forward/back) with ease.  Brody had challenging questions for us to ride including angled jumps, roll backs, and 90 degree bending lines. 

Kelly and Owen–Brody Robertson Clinic–Oct 14, 2012

Throughout the weekend, Brody and others mentioned how much Owen and I have improved since last year.  Everyone can tell, including me, how valuable it was to ride and train at Team CEO for the summer.  I was afraid that when Owen and I got back home, that we would regress back to where we were before, but I’m glad that most of what we learned seems to be sticking.  I still have a lot to learn, and a lot of goals still left to accomplish, but I’m excited about the road ahead. 

 

Clinic

A special thanks to my Grandma and Grandpa who were able to come out on Saturday to see me ride, and to my boyfriend Nathan, Aunt Linda, and Uncle Bret who were able to come out on Sunday.

Jump Start Horse Trials Recap

Oct 05 2012
31
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I have been in St. Louis riding on my own for the last 4 weeks.  Things have been going really well.  Owen has been super happy and cooperative and seems to enjoy our limited time together (2-4 hours a week) working on dressage or jumping.  I can tell that Owen isn’t as fit as he was back in August, but then again, neither am I. 

Last weekend we headed back to Lexington, KY to compete in the Novice division at Jump Start Horse Trials.  In eight years of eventing, this was the first event in which I felt like all 3 phases “clicked”.  Everything seemed very easy and fluid for Owen and I in the sense that we were competing well within our level of mental and physical ability.  On paper, we ended up 1.5 points away from first place (we tied for second place but got a 3rd place ribbon) in a very tough division, but in my heart this was our best outing to date.

Friday: I woke up at 3:30 am and headed to the barn in order to get Owen loaded in the trailer and on our way.  We arrived at the Kentucky Horse Park a little after noon to find that it was overcast and raining.  I quickly setup my stall and gave Owen 30 minutes to relax before tacking up and heading down to the dressage warm up area to ride.  Megan was gracious enough to give me a dressage lesson on Friday since it had been 4 weeks since she last saw me ride.   Owen and I did fairly well in our lesson considering that it was pouring rain and the footing was soupy and sloppy.  Owen is very sensitive so I know the footing and the weather were very distracting to him.

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Dressage:  Despite being foggy and overcast, it didn’t rain at all Saturday morning; however, the damage was done in the fact that the dressage warm up rings and our show ring were very sloppy.  Megan was there to warm us up for dressage and had a worried look on her face the entire time.  I couldn’t get Owen on the bit and engaged at the walk, the trot, or the stretchy trot.  I think Owen was overly distracted by the amount of wet sand on his legs, tail, and belly.  Finally I was able to get him “through” at the canter.  Megan and I decided to change my dressage warm up strategy for the first time ever.  We decided it was best to keep Owen cantering in the warm up ring and around the show arena and then break to the trot when the bell rings to go down center line. 

The new warm up plan must have worked!  Owen was very professional once we entered the show arena.  He performed a very consistent, lovely test and was momentarily able to forget about the distraction of the bad footing.  We scored 8’s on the first and last movements and 6’s and 7’s on most of the other movements (like we have all year) .  The biggest change was that instead of scoring 5’s on our walk work, we scored 7’s and 8’s!  I was thrilled when I saw that we earned a 30.5 for dressage – my lowest score in a recognized event to date!

Cross Country:  In contrast to the dressage footing, the cross country footing was perfect – not too hard and not slick at all.  Owen had a great cross country warm up (a little bit of trot/canter, then jump the cross rail, the vertical, and the roll top) and then we headed to the start box.  Once we started tackling the cross country course, I could tell that Owen and I were totally in sync.  In between fences, I would 1) balance Owen’s canter, 2) get him straight and 3) point him to the next fence.  In response Owen would 1) prick his ears, 2) seem to say “I’ve got this mom”, and 3) continue up and over the fence and off to the next one.  I was so excited to feel our partnership come together in what has traditionally been our hardest phase!  This Novice course felt SO easy even though it had a couple of maxed out fences and technical questions (2 stride coops, down bank to a hanging log, 2 red tables on a bending line, etc.). 

Owen – ears pricked and ready for the next jump!

Galloping

Kelly and Owen–Jump Start HT–Novice Cross Country

Show Jumping:  By Sunday, the weather was sunny and mild and the footing in the jump rings was perfect.  Similar to cross country, Owen and I had a great warm up and a consistent, lovely show jumping round.  If you compare this video to ones from previous events, you can tell how much we have improved.  We jumped double clean in cross country and show jumping so I ended up finishing on my dressage score of 30.5!  This is by far my best finishing score at a recognized event to date.  I think Owen and I earned our 3rd place ribbon and then some!

Jump 3

Kelly and Owen–Jump Start HT–Novice Show Jumping

What’s Next:  In October, I will be heading back to Lexington, KY to compete at the Midsouth Team Challenge Horse Trial.  Then the following week I will be heading to Olathe, KS to compete in the Area IV Novice Championships held at Heritage Horse Trials.  This will be my first Area IV horse trial since June 2011 and Owen’s first time at Heritage Park.  I can’t wait to see how we do!

Victory Gallop

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