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Chris Ryan Clinic Recap

Sep 11 2015
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When I heard that the Woodford Hounds Educational Foundation would be hosting a clinic with Chris Ryan in Central Kentucky, I was very curious and interested in going.  I knew that this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to learn more about foxhunting and horses trained in Ireland.

Chris Ryan is not only the Master and Huntsman of Scarteen Black and Tans in Ireland, an international eventer, coach, and developer of world-class horses, but he also played a key role in helping us find Cullen.  From what I understand, Cullen (known as Coolnaboy Rubens) fox hunted in Ireland with the Scarteen Black and Tans during his 4 year old year.  Just as he turned 5, Chris introduced Megan to Cullen and Megan feel in love – she knew this would be the perfect horse for me! 

Day 1: We drove about an hour and 15 minutes to Shaker Village in Versailles, KY.  Once there, we tacked up and met some of the other riders in our group.  One of the women was nice enough to lead us on a 30 minute trail ride from the West Lot to the Kennels.  The ride across Shaker Village was almost more challenging than the clinic itself.  We had to ride up and down steep hills with sharp rocks and tight turns.  At one point we got to cross a shallow creek bed which was fun.  Once we arrived at the Kennels, we were greeted by many friendly faces, some of which were handing out cold cups of water.  Much appreciated as it was 95+ degrees and sunny at this point! 

Trail riding to the clinic location (Photo by Megan)
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We met Chris and I quickly learned that he was going to be a great instructor.  He had a gift to provide the right amount of theory and instruction for the activities he had planned for us.  We started by walking over telephone poles and small cross rails to get the horses legs active.  Then we started trotting small fences.  Chris threw a coat onto one of the jumps in an effort to get the horses sharper with their front ends.

Jumping the cross rail with a coat on it (Photo by Megan)
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After a couple of jumping exercises, Chris moved us over to the Irish Bank.  First he had us walk up and down the bank length wise.  Then he had us jump up and down from both sides.  One of the sides even had a ditch at the bottom!  The horses were all good sports as they learned to navigate this new obstacle.  Several of the horses would walk calmly up and down the bank’s steep edges.  Cullen, however, being the “master bank horse” (as Chris liked to call him), would leap to the top of the bank in a single bound and bounce down the other side in a single leap.  It was so much fun!!

Walking across the top of the bank (Photo by Megan)
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Cullen leaping off the bank (Photo by Micki)
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Day 2: Luckily our ride time for day 2 was in the morning, so it was about 10 degrees cooler (still around 85 degrees) which offered some relief from the day before.  The trail ride out to the clinic site was less dramatic because we knew what to expect this time.  We started off our session with some of the same exercises we worked on the day before – walking over poles and trotting fences to get the horses warmed up. 

Warm up Day 2 (Photo by Micki M)
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After our warm up, Chris walked us over to a big rugged ditch that was dug out in the middle of the field.  He had our horses walk into the ditch and jump out, then jump in the ditch and trot out, and finally jump over the ditch.  It was impressive to see Cullen’s brain work as he tried to figure out exactly what we wanted.  After all, his entire life in Ireland was trying to avoid falling into ditches, and now we were telling him to jump down into one!  Cullen was a good sport and answered every question we asked of him.

Jumping out of the ditch (Photo by Micki M)
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Jumping into the ditch (Photo by Micki M)
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Jumping over the ditch (Photo by Megan)
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The grand finale of the clinic was jumping the big steeplechase brush jump two at a time.  Chris explained that horses are herd animals and that getting to gallop and jump together is a lot of fun for them.  This concept made sense but was a little foreign to me since we spend a lot of time keeping the off the track thoroughbreds we ride from racing each other.  The Irish horses seemed to have a great time riding in groups without becoming overly competitive.

Jumping the steeplechase hedge (photo by Micki M)
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Wrap Up: What I learned at this clinic over the 2 days has allowed me to see things from Cullen’s point of view.  Being a “master bank and ditch horse” raised and started in Ireland, Cullen has learned to square up his hind legs and push over the jumps to allow him to be more secure on take off and landing.  In the US, this might look a little exaggerated and awkward, but in Ireland, it kept him and his rider safe even in the questionable footing.  Not only do I have a better understanding of Cullen’s background, but I also gained a lot of trust in my partner.  I am excited to go back and build on this trust as we continue training for eventing.

A huge thank you to the Woodford Hounds Educational Foundation for hosting such a great clinic and for bringing this opportunity to us.  And thank you to Chris Ryan for flying over to the US and sharing his knowledge with us!

Kentucky Classique HT 2015 Recap

Sep 08 2015
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I was excited to compete at the Kentucky Classique Horse Trials at the end of August. The courses are usually challenging but fair and this year was no exception. As always, Cullen showed up to the event with his game face on and handled himself like a seasoned pro in all three phases.

Dressage: Cullen was wonderful in dressage warmup Saturday morning. He was light and responsive and has really learned how to stretch into the contact of the bridle. I am so pleased with how far he’s come this year. I really felt like this was our best test at a horse trial to date.

Unfortunately, everyone else seemed to be having a good weekend as well, with the top 10 riders all piled together with scores from 29-35. Cullen was sitting at a 35.3 which put us tied for 11th.

Photos by the wonderful Liz Moyer
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I have a couple of homework items I’m going to work on over the next few weeks: 1) getting Cullen more active in the walk and trot and 2) getting his frame a bit higher so he doesn’t give the impression of being on the forehand.

Show Jumping: Saturday afternoon we headed to show jumping warmup. I have been working really hard on being calm and relaxed in warm up and clearing my head of all negative thoughts prior to entering the show ring. I think it is starting to work because I was only marginally nervous as Cullen and I popped over a few warm up fences and headed down to the show ring.

Cullen had a great show jumping round and easily left up all the rails (despite my panic moment in the double combination) which moved us up to 9th place.

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My homework for show jumping includes: 1) working on flying lead changes and 2) gaining confidence while riding double and triple combinations.

Cross Country: On Sunday it was time for Cullen’s favorite phase – cross country! The ground was hard and slick, so I made sure to put studs in all of Cullen’s shoes before heading to warm up. In warm up, I jumped a few fences and walked around waiting for our turn to leave the start box. I thought about my course and realized that there wasn’t a single fence or combination out there that worried me. I had complete faith in the relationship that Cullen and I have formed this year and I knew it would a work out. Luckily, I was right. Cullen and I loped around the cross country course and through the finish flags. When we pulled up to meet my friends, we noticed that Cullen didn’t have a single drop of sweat on his neck even after running a 5 minute cross country course in 80+ degree weather. Apparently the course didn’t stress him out either!

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Cullen and I finished the event on our dressage score in 8th place. I am super proud of how we did this weekend, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season holds for us.

What’s Next: Cullen and I will compete at Novice in the Jump Start Horse Trials at the end of September.

Cobblestone Farms HT 2015 Recap

Aug 04 2015
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At the end of July, Cullen and I headed North to Dexter, Michigan for the Cobblestone Farms Horse Trial.  This was my first time at Cobblestone and I was very impressed!  The land and facilities were gorgeous, the courses were challenging, the community was very welcoming and the staff and volunteers were wonderful!  Most notably, this was our first DRY horse show of the season….no thunderstorms, rain, flooding, or monsoons.  We did however, have a lot of sweat as it was hot and sunny the entire weekend.  I’ll take it!

Thursday morning I had to work so we didn’t get to leave the farm until afternoon.  Luckily, everything was packed and loaded by the time I got to the farm.  My wonderful traveling companions (Tara, Gracie, and Hayden) were on top of things!  The roads through Ohio were filled with traffic, construction barrels, uneven pavement and potholes, but we made it to Cobblestone safe and sound just before 7 PM.  We unpacked the trailer and got the horses settled in their stalls for the night before heading out for dinner and the hotel. 

Friday morning we got up bright and early to watch our friends compete in Prelim dressage.  After that, I tacked up Cullen and rode him around the property to stretch his legs.  A little while later I gave him a bath and braided him so that he would be all ready to show the next day.  I also went out and walked our cross country course twice.  Once I saw how big and challenging the course was, I got really excited.  We started calling cross country the “Novice Olympics”.  I was excited to do our first legitimate half coffin, our first trakehner, our first maximum sized brush and more!

Dressage: Saturday morning we got up early and headed to Cobblestone ready for a full day at the show.  I tacked up Cullen and hacked out to dressage warm up where we walked around for a while.  The footing in warm up was a little deep and the weather was already starting to get hot, so I wanted to keep our warm up as brief as possible.  Cullen was very obedient and we went in and had a very respectable test.  Though I didn’t score as well as I had hoped, the judge wrote several nice comments on our test: “Attentive, nicely in hand”  and “Keep at it. Good, correct start.”  We scored a 38 to sit in 7th place in the Open Novice division.

Cross Country: Saturday afternoon I tacked up and headed out to cross country warm up with Andrea who came out to coach us.  Cobblestone had 3 nice cross country jumps that were flagged for warm up which was great!  We jumped each jump nicely and practiced our “coffin canter” and then we were ready.  Cullen and I headed to the start box and off we went!

What happened next was 5 minutes of pure heaven.  I talked to myself in my head the entire ride and rode exactly as planned.  Cullen cruised around effortlessly as if he were reading my mind.  We were in complete harmony!  This was the most fun I’ve ever had on cross country!   Cullen and I moved up to 4th place after going double clear on cross country.

Cross Country Photos by Nancy K. (Jumps #3 and #4)
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Show Jumping: By Sunday afternoon, the ground was hard and the grass was dry.  The course had very tight turns and several horses were slipping.  I decided to put small studs in Cullen’s shoes and that helped us tremendously.  He didn’t slip a single time.  I was thankful to have Andrea on hand to help us again in warm up.  We talked through my plan for the course: choose a good, quality canter and keep a consistent rhythm throughout the course.  Easy, right?  Our round went OK, but because Cullen doesn’t have flying lead changes (yet), and the course was too tight to trot the changes (in most places), I struggled mentally with keeping the balance and the rhythm when we were not always on the correct lead.  We ended up having 1 rail which dropped us from 4th to 5th. 

Despite the rail, I was super happy with our weekend!  This was the first time Cullen and I went to an away show together.  I was impressed with how he acted like a seasoned pro all weekend.  I definitely think there will be more away shows for us in the future.

Photo from video taken by Nathan
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What’s Next: Cullen and I will compete at Kentucky Classique Horse Trial at the Kentucky Horse Park at the end of August.

Champagne Run HT 2015 Recap

Jul 17 2015
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Cullen and I attended the Champagne Run Horse Trial at the Kentucky Horse Park this past weekend.  It was a very challenging, drama filled weekend, but it turned out to be a great success thanks to all the help and support I received from my Team CEO family.

Leading up to the event, Kentucky had extremely wet weather.  I bet it rained at least part of every day for 15 days straight.  The good news is that the rain softened the ground nicely and kept it from being like concrete this summer.  Unfortunately, we think the wet ground played a part in Cullen developing a hoof abscess.  After over a week of soaking and wrapping his foot, we were able to get the abscess resolved in time for the show.  Friday I had to scramble to meet with a farrier to have his shoe put back on so that we could show, but we got it done thanks to a few phone calls by Megan.

At this point, Cullen had not been jumped since the Midsouth Horse Trial, he had not been ridden in 2 weeks, and he had no turnout for the past week.  Despite all of this, Cullen was the utmost professional the entire weekend, including 11 hours straight of horse show stuff on Saturday – bathing, braiding, tacking, riding, waiting, riding, wrapping, etc.  His positive attitude is contagious and you can’t help but smile when you are around him.

Dressage: Saturday morning I bathed Cullen and then loaded him up and drove him to the Horse Park.  Once there, I braided him while my friend Nicole did her dressage test.  After that, I tacked up and headed down to dressage myself.  Cullen was fairly stiff in warm up which I’m guessing is a result of being in his stall all week.  I also knew that he wasn’t super dressage-fit, so I kept his warm up brief.  We headed into the dressage ring and put in a very respectable test.  Cullen was very obedient and tried his best.  I think 6 months from now, after he gets stronger, he’s going to be phenomenal on the flat.  At this point, I am very happy with our 36 after dressage.

Canter circle (photo from Michelle)
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Trot circle (photo from Michelle)
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Dressage Test (video by Nathan):

Cross Country: Saturday afternoon it was time for cross country.  I tacked up and headed down to cross country warm up.  Cullen and I trotted and cantered briefly before heading to a little coop for our warm up fence.  After the jump, Cullen put his head down and kicked his heels to the side to celebrate.  He was SO excited to be out on cross country.  We warmed up over the larger stair step jump and he celebrated a little more.  Cullen’s enthusiasm was contagious and I was feeling super lucky to be going out on course with this exceptional horse. 

Once out on course, Cullen packed me around in his metronome rhythm and never changed.  We even had our most fluid jump over a ditch to date.  The most challenging combination on course involved a small cabin, over a water filled ditch, bending line to another small cabin where several riders had refusals, had rider falls, or got eliminated.  Cullen stepped over the first cabin, got his feet close to the edge of the water and jumped carefully over it, and then stepped over the second cabin.  His smooth, methodical approach to the combination showed wisdom beyond his years and was definitely something he must have learned while fox hunting in Ireland.  We finished the course double clear!   Unfortunately, while on course, Cullen lost a hind shoe (not the same shoe that was put on Friday).  Time for another visit from the farrier!

Combination 6A & B with water running through the middle (photo from Nicole)
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Steeplechase Jump (photo from Nathan’s video)
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All smiles! (photo by Howard)
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Cross County Round (video by Nathan): 

Show Jumping: Sunday morning we woke up to a strong line of severe thunderstorms.  I headed to the barn early to unwrap Cullen’s legs and hooves and head over to the Horse Park to meet the farrier (thanks to Megan for scheduling the appointment!).  Once we arrived, we learned that the show was going to be an hour delayed due to the weather, so we trailered back to the farm to meet the farrier there.  The farrier reset both of Cullen’s back shoes and then we headed back to the horse show very happy to find that most of the severe weather was past us for the day.  I stepped into my trailer to get my saddle to start to tack up.  When I stepped out of the trailer I found my friends scrambling to help Cullen – he had stepped on his new back shoe and twisted it and was stepping on the clip – ouch!  Luckily, “super MacGyver” Andrea showed up and was able to quickly pull off the offending shoe with a hammer, a hoof pick and a girth.  With no time to schedule a THIRD farrier appointment for the weekend, we decided it was OK to proceed to show jumping without one shoe.

I finished tacking up and headed down to the warm up area.  My plan was to pick up a canter, jump a single fence, and head to the show ring in order to be easy on Cullen’s feet.  Unfortunately, my first and second warm up fences didn’t go as planned.  I sent out the SOS signal for help, and Andrea arrived within minutes to help me with my warm up.  Megan also rode by on her young horse and helped coach me from the fence rail.  Between the two of them, I got back on track and headed to the show ring where we jumped around double clear!  Cullen never put a foot wrong (though I wasn’t much help in telling him which canter lead to be on) and happily cantered around the course in his usual enthusiastic manner.

Green Oxer (photo from Nathan’s video)
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Black Oxer (photo from Nathan’s video)
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Show Jumping (video by Nathan): 

We finished the event on our dressage score of 36 in 3rd place!  Better yet, I finished with a happy, healthy horse who is loving his job as an amateur eventer’s trusty steed.

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What’s Next: Cullen and I will head to Northern Michigan to compete Novice at the Cobblestone Horse Trial in 2 weeks.  It will be my first time at Cobblestone so I’m excited to try out a new event.

Midsouth Ponyclub HT 2015 Recap

Jul 09 2015
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In late June, Cullen and I attended the Midsouth Ponyclub Horse Trials at the Kentucky Horse Park.  This was our 3rd horse trial and I was excited to build on the positive experiences we had at our last 2 outings.

In the days leading up to the show, a tropical depression (hurricane?) brought lots of heavy rain to the Lexington area.  This left the weather radar looking like this…
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And the cross country footing looking like this… (deep mud and standing water)
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Luckily, I was riding an Irish horse who is very used to rain and mud.  :-)  Cullen was a complete professional the entire weekend despite the challenging weather and footing.

Dressage: It was a complete torrential downpour one hour before my dressage ride time.  The horses were quietly munching hay in the trailer and my friend Nicole and I were hiding out in the truck.  I picked up the phone and called the show office to ask if the show was still running on schedule.  A very polite and cheerful voice confirmed that the show was in fact running on schedule since there was no lightening in the area.  I sucked it up and left the dry truck to unload, tack up, and hack down to the dressage.  About half way between the trailer and the dressage rings, I realized that every inch of my clothes were soaking wet and there was a steady stream of water trickling into my tall boots.  I plastered a smile to my face and kept going.

Once down at dressage, I found out that all of the volunteers were sent home.  We did not have a “bit check” or ring stewards.  That was a first!  I did, however, find my husband Nathan and my coach Megan.  Now THAT’S dedication!  They were standing sideways while talking to me to keep the strong rain from pelting them in the face.  Now I really had to smile.  They were there for me and I had to put on my game face and do my best for them.  Cullen and I warmed up in less than 10 minutes and headed straight to the show ring. 

Cullen and I had a very respectable test.  He had a couple of baby moments (swerving down centerline) and I had a couple of mistakes (running him into the rail) but we made it through with a 34.  We headed back to the trailer and learned that cross country was postponed for Novice and would be run Sunday after Show Jumping.  I happily headed home for a hot shower and dry clothes.

Show Jumping: Luckily, we didn’t have any more rain on Sunday – the weather remained calm and clear.  Sunday morning we headed back to the Horse Park for show jumping feeling more enthusiastic than the day before. 

For some reason, I was super nervous in show jumping warm up.  Panic washed over me and my arms and legs went numb.  I talked to Megan and we developed a game plan to keep me clam and focused on the task at hand.  After jumping the warm up vertical 2-3 times I was feeling more at ease.  I remembered that Cullen was a superstar, that he loved to jump, and that he would have my back even if I made a mistake.  Cullen and I headed down to the show ring and had a brilliant round!  Cullen was very enthusiastic and full of run.  I think he is getting very cocky at Novice!  I used my time between the fences to settle the canter and remind Cullen to be patient.  Unfortunately, I pulled on the reins a few too many times approaching jump 7 and we had the rail down, but otherwise I was happy with our round. 

Warm Up (picture by Howard)
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Show Time (picture by Howard)
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Last Fence (picture by Jj Sillman Photography)
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Video of Show Jumping (video by Nathan): https://youtu.be/9_bUyKSFHt4

Cross Country: Several hours after show jumping, it was time to head to cross country.  The cross country warm up area had very deep and sticky footing from all the rain the day before so I knew I needed to limit my warm up or risk Cullen losing a shoe.  I cantered a circle, hopped over 2 warm up fences, and headed over to the start box.  As soon as Cullen and I left the start box and headed to the first jump, I could tell it was going to be an amazing round.  From start to finish, the entire ride was foot perfect and followed the rhythm of a metronome. 

This was the best cross country round of my career, and this was only Cullen’s 3rd event ever!  I’m so thrilled with the partnership we are developing and the future for us!

Coop (picture by Jj Sillman Photography) 
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Water Jump (picture by Jj Sillman Photography)
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Video of Cross Country Part 1 (video by Howard): https://youtu.be/a9EldG50IIw

Video of Cross Country Part 2 (video by Howard): https://youtu.be/n3Mol4K7ee4 

Smiles After the Course (picture by Howard)
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We finished the event on a score of 38 in 8th place in a big Novice division.  But better than any ribbon is the experience of putting three great phases together with my handsome and talented horse.

What’s Next: Cullen and I will continue to compete at Novice to get more experience at this level.  Our next show is Champagne Run Horse Trial at the Kentucky Horse Park in July.

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