Thursday, January 17, 2019

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Aiken 2018: Prep

Feb 13 2018

You would think that going on vacation is relaxing, but there is a ton of work involved in getting ready to go on vacation with your horse.  It typically takes me 10 weeks to get ready for our annual trip down South each year.  Here is a summary of some of the planning involved as Cullen and I get ready to head to Aiken, SC this weekend.  This year, I am fortunate that we get to go 1 week in February and 2 weeks in March to train with Elissa.

Veterinary Care – In December, I had the dentist out to float Cullen’s teeth.  I have him see a dentist twice a year to make sure he is comfortable eating and holding the bit in his mouth.  In January, I had another vet visit to give Cullen his annual vaccinations and update his Coggins test and health certificate.  Cullen was vaccinated for 9 different diseases (that is standard for show horses)!  Cullen typically spikes a fever for 24 hours after getting vaccines so we watch him carefully to make sure he is comfortable and recovers well.  I had a third vet visit to do flexion tests and jog him to make sure Cullen feels good and is up to the physical demands of the training trip.  Cullen passed the exam with flying colors!  There is a forth vet visit planned later this week to do a final updated health certificate.

At this point, I could also have one or more additional treatments done on Cullen as needed – acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, PEMF (pulsed electromagnetic therapy).  Fortunately, at this point in the season, the treatments aren’t needed and my checkbook gets a little relief. 

Waiting for the vet

Truck and Trailer – In January, I took my truck to get an oil change, filter change, and general overall inspection.  After paying for this work to be done, Nathan and I decided it was time to upgrade the truck.  We ended up trading in the white 2004 F250 Diesel for a black 2016 F250 Diesel.  The new truck starts and drives like a dream!  The truck needs a gooseneck ball installed in the bed, but then it should be all ready to go.  I also took my trailer to get annual maintenance which includes checking the tires, floor, lights, brakes as well as packing the ball bearings.

The new truck

Fitness and Basic Training – Before investing the time and money in a training trip, I make sure Cullen and I have a basic level of fitness and training.  Cullen has been ridden 5 days a week consistently all winter including 45 minute dressage schools and jumping small courses and gymnastics.  Unfortunately, the weather and the footing outside has been so bad that I haven’t gotten to do any trot/canter sets in the field.  I’ll have to remember that gap in fitness prep when we school cross country in Aiken.  For myself, I’ve been working out consistently for the last 3 months – weight lifting, circuit training, Booiaka dance, and running on a treadmill in addition to riding.

Jumping in the indoor

Road hacking on a day when it was too muddy to ride in the fields

Working out with the personal trainer at the gym

Tack and Equipment – In the Fall, I had the saddle fitter come out and check my saddles.  He found that the dressage saddle fit Cullen well, but the jump saddle needed a minor adjustment.  The saddle was sent to Florida for a few weeks to be adjusted and now it sits in a better balance on Cullen’s back.  Fortunately, all of Cullen’s other tack fits him well and all of my barn equipment is in good working condition.  I bought Cullen a neck cover for his Back on Track sheet, but otherwise didn’t have to buy anything special for the trip this year.

Dressed up in his dressage tack

Grain, Hay, Supplements – The barn owner is going to pack up grain and hay for me to take on my trip this year.  It is important that the horse’s diet to remain the same when they travel to reduce stress and the risk of colic.  In addition to hay and grain, Cullen will also be fed an electrolyte supplement in Aiken to keep him drinking well and replace the salt he will lose from sweating.  When we get back to Kentucky, Cullen will be fed a supplement to clear any sand from his gut. 

Farrier – Cullen gets his feet done by a farrier every 5-6 weeks year round.  I have to time the visits so that he sees the farrier the week before our trip South.  The goal is to make sure Cullen doesn’t have to be seen by an unfamiliar farrier out of state.

Cullen’s feet after a farrier visit

Body Clipping – Cullen grows a super smooth, light winter coat.  If we stayed in Kentucky all winter, I wouldn’t get him clipped, but it is very beneficial to get your horse clipped before heading down South to warmer temperatures and lots of sand.  It makes cooling off horses after a ride and hosing them down so much easier.  Plus, Cullen is so handsome when he is clipped.  :-)

Cullen after his body clipping

Well, that’s about it!  All I have left is to do laundry and pack for myself.  Stayed tuned for a bunch of Aiken training blog posts in the next 6 weeks.

Year in Review: 2017 Recap

Jan 02 2018

I will always remember this year as a time of challenge and growth for me.  Many family members (including myself) experienced health issues, I encountered training issues with Cullen, and work was incredibly stressful.  Even though I didn’t meet many of my goals for the year, I learned a ton and I’ve made some significant changes so that I can start off 2018 better and stronger than ever before.

Nathan and I spent a week vacationing in Antigua with my family in March and a long weekend at Kentucky Lake in July.  I also took a trip to Nashville in July to see two of my best friends from high school.  Nathan and I celebrated our 4 year weeding anniversary in August this year by taking a trip to Cumberland Falls.   We spent Thanksgiving and Christmas in St. Louis, MO visiting family and friends.  Career wise, Nathan started a new job November and I successfully completed my first year as a Managing Director at Accenture.

Antigua Vacation                                    Cumberland Falls Vacation
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I spent most of the year working in Hartford, CT, but I also went on business trips to Phoenix, AZ; Atlanta, GA; King of Prussia and Philadelphia, PA; Nashville, TN; and Sunrise, FL.  I stayed over 100 nights in a hotel and flew on over 66 airline segments. 

Even with a busy life at work, I was able to ride over 169 days this year including completing 3 horse trials at the Novice level – Spring Bay HT, Penny Oaks HT (cross country was canceled), and River Glen June HT.

Spring Bay HT
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I started the year by taking a 2 week trip to Ocala, FL with my friend Nikki and our two horses.  It was a wonderful and relaxing vacation.  While there, we boarded at the fabulous Sweet Dixie South Farm and were able to take lessons from Dom Schramm (show jumping and cross country) and Peter Gray (dressage and gymnastics).

Sweet Dixie South, Ocala, FL
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In September, I decided to make some changes for Cullen and me.  I moved Cullen to Rockbarton Farm which is a private boarding barn closer to my house.  In addition to an indoor arena, outdoor arena, jumps and large grass pastures, the full service horse care is second to none.  I also started working with a new trainer, upper level event rider Elissa Gibbs.  Elissa has been phenomenal about working around her busy schedule to accommodate my crazy schedule to work with Cullen and me.  She’s been riding Cullen during week when I travel and also gives me weekly lessons.  I have seen drastic improvements in both our jumping and our dressage in the 4 months we’ve been working together.  I can’t wait to continue our progress in 2018 and start showing again.

Rockbarton Farm
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Despite our abbreviated show schedule, Cullen and I won some really cool year end awards.

MSEDA High Point Adult Amateur Eventing (perpetual trophy) 
MSEDA 3rd Sr Novice Horse Trials
USEA Eventing Gold Medal at Novice
USEA Area 8 8th Adult Amateur Rider Novice

Year End Awards
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In addition to training with Elissa, I’ve been working hard to increase my fitness in preparation for the 2018 show season.  I’ve been working out with a personal trainer twice a week where I lift weights for about 60-90 min.  I also just started going to a Booiaka fitness dance class 1-2 times a week.  I also plan to start running more to increase my cardio stamina with a goal to run 500 miles in 2018.

I am anxious to leave 2017 behind and I look forward to a great year in 2018! 

Why it matters

Sep 07 2017

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).


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.


To plan or not to plan?

Jul 12 2017

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
Richland Water

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)

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

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.

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.

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!

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!

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