Author Archives: Leslie Threlkeld

About Leslie Threlkeld

Leslie Threlkeld is a writer and photographer specializing in equestrian topics.

Willow Completes Her First Recognized Event!


Willow’s loves horse shows and watching the activity. Like “watching TV” as Joanie said.

Considering I haven’t updated this blog in exactly a year, I think of it more as a competition diary now than a useful update to my life’s goings on. Incidentally, I’ve ridden in two competitions since my last report on the 2015 Hillcrest Spring schooling show.

Willow and Ketchen Place Farm’s Fairfax went back to Hillcrest in the fall. Fairfax competed in the three-phase starter division. Her show jumping was perfect, with everyone commenting on how cute and scopey she is, and the cross country was a great learning experience, with her really starting to “get it” and enjoy herself by the end. She’s going to be such a fun partner for someone!

At the same show, I moved Willow up to Beginner Novice and it was not a good day. We weren’t on the same page at all and I was feeling pretty discouraged and concerned.


Fairfax on course (and totally adorable) at Hillcrest Farm. Photo by Eileen Dimond.

I can’t remember if I had already entered Willow in the Adult Team Challenge at the Virginia Horse Trials, but at some point I withdrew her and decided to take Bailey, who would be with me for several months while Mom was particularly busy with work.

Our team won the Beginner Novice team challenge, I had a fantastic and fun return to recognized eventing and we even brought Fairfax for her first overnight trip. She took in the sights of the busy show grounds and even worked a bit in an indoor and a covered ring. I’m looking forward to going on more adventures with her this year!


Fairfax and Bailey at the Virginia Horse Trials.

Bailey is back with mom now, and another Team Challenge opportunity at FENCE, one of my all-time favorite venues, inspired me to get serious about moving Willow up to Beginner Novice, which has been a long time coming. She’s an extremely capable little pony, but it always seemed like my crazy work schedule, untimely injuries and several moves kept us from making it happen. Starter levels are little and low key and you don’t need a whole lot of preparation for them. It has been easy to stick with that.

Sometime late last year I finally broke down and bought a new saddle. The County I had been using didn’t fit Willow particularly well, nor was it especially comfortable to me and it was starting to affect our work. My friend Patty Merli worked with us to find a great Black Country Tex Eventer that fits both Willow and myself (plus, it’s gorgeous!). It was an expensive investment but 100% worth it as I feel like our flatwork really started to progress after this purchase and our jumping improved as a result also.


A fancy pony prancing at Hillcrest. Photo by Eileen Dimond.

In the past I’ve been hasty to enter horse trials on the opening date, and twice now I’ve had to withdraw Willow before closing, so I figured this time I would “prepare, prepare, prepare” and then enter at the last minute. I started raising the fences at home and went off site several times to cross country school, once with Dana Cooke at Kingfisher Equestrian and another time with Mary at Windridge. The week before the event I shipped up to Mooresville for a show jumping lesson with Dana just to get another opportunity to jump around some bigger, unfamiliar jumps.

Dana was a huge help for me getting more in sync with Willow over fences. I’ve been unconsciously trying to ride Willow like I rode Sam, staying more or less in a half seat when jumping. This style clearly doesn’t work for Willow and Dana helped me get more comfortable with sitting down and putting my hands forward in front of the fences instead of trying to place her at what I thought was the best distance.

Willow is a great jumper, but sometimes, especially on cross country, she likes to get close to the fence and get a look at it. This can be disconcerting because in my mind I feel like I should be constantly lifting her neck and shoulder since she’s built a little heavy on the forehand.

In the end, Willow is much happier if I sit back and stay out of her way. Once she realized I wasn’t going to bother her, she starting getting more comfortable with longer distances and jumping out of stride instead of driving all her momentum downward in front of the fence. It was a huge revelation for us, but I still have to tell myself to sit up and glue my bum to the saddle in front of each fence. The minute I panic and lean forward, she will stop or overjump.


So we had a good prep and I entered FENCE feeling only a little apprehensive. Three-phase schooling shows are usually $100 and a fun day trip. The entry and stabling for this event was $340. Since it’s a relatively local event, I used less than a tank of diesel there and back again, and I slept in the gooseneck of my trailer (and froze!). The event fed us Friday and Saturday night and had a coffee/donut stall in the mornings, so I didn’t spend any money on food.

My point is, even though this event was relatively inexpensive as far as recognized events go, it’s still a lot of money and I didn’t want to screw up or have something silly go wrong.

In the end, the competition was a huge success. Willow finished on her dressage score of 35.8 for sixth place in a division of 19 starters. We both enjoyed ourselves tremendously and I’m already perusing the calendars to try and figure out when I can get to her out to another event, hopefully one that her owner Amy can come watch. I’m beyond thrilled. I love this little pony more than I can say and I’m so proud of her.


Rockstar pony!

I finally have a handle on Willow’s dressage warm-up. She knows now when we’re showing and she wants to be sure everyone is looking at her (she whinnies constantly just to be sure). So she works really hard in the warm up and then is worn out by the time she gets to the ring, no matter if I give her lots of walk breaks and stretchy time.

Since we arrived a day early, I went to ride on Friday and set my stopwatch. After warming up for 10 minutes I felt like she would be ready to go in the ring. At 15 minutes, I could feel her tire. Don’t get me wrong, she’s really fit, but she works extra hard when she’s away from home. My girl is a competitor!

So I had a plan for dressage. I walked her a lot Saturday morning to make sure she was loose and limber after being in a stall overnight. I braided her mane and tail, which she totally loved as I figured she would. I’ve never braided her before and she hates for her mane to be pulled, but she let me sew braids in without even wearing a halter; she stood like a stone, watched the world go by and took a nap.


Pony tales!

After a ten-ish minute warmup we went to the ring and she turned on the charm as we circled. There were lots of people there to watch her including some of our stall mates and my mom and her friend Joanie, who was in town to visit. She had a good test and watching it later on video I was still really pleased (we’re trying to get that video uploaded!). Our judge, Jodi Lees, is very good and I appreciate the score and useful comments.

It was far from Willow’s best work and I had to give her a little reminder about the meaning of my leg a couple times. Even though she warms up really well, when she actually goes in the ring, she tends to get a little behind my leg and lacks some lateral suppleness as she is somewhat spooky at the boards and letters, but she improves every time out and I think this is a matter of confidence and education.

I walked the cross country course one more time with mom and Joanie accompanying me. They planned to stand at the water jump and cheer and shout “Ponnyyyyyy!” My mom is a great cheerleader, but those two together are like a high school pep squad.

The first two fences on course were not inviting at all. When we walked, I said if we make it past the first two jumps – a big rolltop on an incline adjacent to the warmup and a vertical type skinny-ish fence on the treeline around a blind turn – then we would be golden. She warmed up really well and I let Willow make all the decisions at the first two jumps. I just sat back and stayed out of her way. She got deep to them but jumped with confidence. We picked up the pace to number three, and she jumped out of stride, looking for the next.

Many of the fences on course were like nothing she had seen before, and there were several questions that took some thinking and confidence on her part. She powered up the huge hill, jumped the bank and ditch without a second glance, did a really difficult turn near the end beautifully, and crossed the finish with energy to spare.

The only time I had to work for it was coming up to the water, which you couldn’t see until you were right on top of it and there was a line of people standing on the hill beyond. I think she was looking at the spectators so she went a little sideways on the approach, but I just kept my hands wide and sat back and she went in, then focused right away on the next obstacle, which had not been jumping well for everyone that day. I was thrilled and exhilarated with our run and felt like all the preparation and time we took to get to this point was well worth it!


I pampered Willow that evening, giving her a nice bath, soaking her bare feet and poulticing and wrapping her legs. I didn’t want to risk any soreness the next day. I kept her out of the stall for a long time Sunday morning, and we had to wait to jump after 1:00 in the afternoon.

I have always been a nervous show jumper and that hasn’t changed in the eight years since I’ve been an active Preliminary level competitor. I was ill and a little agitated while getting ready. I was nearing the end of my coping rope! Willow warmed up really well though, and I reminded myself that we did the cross country, we can do this bit too.

There were two warm up rings and I went to the second warm up with just two riders to go before me. The footing was very deep in front of the fences and she had two bad jumps. I said “forget it!” and went to the ring. I had a planned path to let her see most of the fences before we picked up the canter to head for the first jump.

There was a lot to look at and she was really distracted at first. She spooked at the first jump, got close to the second and made an unbalanced turn to three, then suddenly she got down to business. We jumped in quiet to the two-stride in-and-out and she put in a tidy three strides. She kept a perfect rhythm between seven and eight, which had been causing some problems throughout the day. Turning for nine, I nearly took out the start flag and she was staring down fence 1 again, but we recovered and had a clever jump over the last to finish clear. We moved up two places and got a pretty green ribbon.

I wish we had been able to do a victory gallop as the morning divisions had done, but in the interest of time they were giving out ribbons by the announcer’s stand, which was somewhat anti-climactic. Speaking of the announcer, she loved Willow’s show name, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and it was fun to hear her announce it with a smile!

I dearly love the FENCE horse trials as I’ve been going there since I was small. It was a great return trip and I couldn’t have asked for it to go any better at Willow’s and my recognized debut. It was especially wonderful to have my mom and Joanie there to cheer me on Saturday and the Ketchen Place Farm family came too. Mary also had a successful return to eventing with her horse Rey and I’m so excited for her!

My friends Liz, Mark, Eileen and Carla were photographers that weekend and it was a special thing for my friends to be taking my picture. I ordered the whole photo CD and can’t wait to post some of my favorites. Meanwhile, here is the link to the gallery. How cute it that pony?!


The Willow Show – Hillcrest Farm

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Lovely Hillcrest Farm. Photo by Naomi Eastwood

Due to her bone bruise and my travel schedule, Willow ended up having the fall off entirely. From October through the end of the year she did nothing but eat grass in the pasture. I got back on her on January 1 and she’s been going brilliantly since.

After our last schooling show at Windridge, I had set the task of improving flexibility and building strength in the canter work. I’m delighted that Willow is becoming really strong and really flexible. We started the year doing a lot of slow trot work and introducing lateral exercises, and it’s definitely paid off.

I discovered in her canter work that I have a tendency to get really tight in my hips in an effort to sit her canter well and hold her together. It was a relief when my pal rode her and confirmed for me that she just doesn’t have a particularly comfortable canter.

Taking that information and the knowledge that I need to loosen up, I’ve made an effort to be more relaxed and sit deeper rather than trying to sit still and pretty. It’s been a good adjustment, as Willow is happier in her canter work and I’m not so exhausted when we’re finished.

Willow likes jumping, but she loves dressage, and now that she has the ability to do it a bit more, she’s learning more and eating it up. She’s started on trot lengthenings and is doing more lateral work at the trot. Her way of going has improved overall, as she’s now really pushing from behind, almost working in a medium trot, and she is much lighter in front.

Photo by Naomi Eastwood

Willow winning the warm up. Photo by Naomi Eastwood

With that improved ability she challenges me too because she won’t do something unless I ask her properly, and if I screw up she really gets offended. Silly pony.

We headed out to our first show of the year at the end of March at a gorgeous property called Hillcrest Farm in Mocksville. Janet Cagle is a delight and put on a very good show. It was the perfect outing for Willow and a good opportunity to take a young horse off the property as well.

Willow is such a good example for the young or nervous types, and I was so grateful for her good behavior since the young horse required most of my attention. Thankfully I had my faery godsister Naomi with me. She had come down for a visit and graciously changed her weekend plans to come groom for me at the show. She took good care of me, kept my head on straight and gave me a kick in the pants when I needed it.

She also expected, nay, insisted that Willow and I win. And we did.

Willow has figured out that when we’re doing dressage at a horse show, we’re showing off for other people. I’ve figured out that she will exhaust herself trying too hard to win the warm-up, so I did very little in the way of warm up for dressage and gave her lots of walk breaks. That strategy seemed to work as she wasn’t yet tired when we actually went to ride the test.

Cute little Fairfax! Photo by Naomi Eastwood

Cute little Fairfax! Photo by Naomi Eastwood

She went in the ring and absolutely delivered, save a somewhat crooked entry. She was supple, attentive, and rhythmic. Our only loss of rhythm came when I took my leg off when trotting across the diagonal and she started into a lengthening. I over-corrected, creating resistance that did not go unnoticed by the judge.

The test received mostly 6.5-7.5 scores on each movement, with an 8 on her walk. The collective marks were all 7s for Willow and all 7.5s for me, which was a pleasant surprise. The judge commented “Very well prepared and ridden test – a pleasure to watch.”

We scored a 30.0, our personal best and a full six points better than our last attempt at the same test. Willow also received some really nice compliments from spectators as we left the ring. Good girl!

The young horse I had brought with me was 6-year-old Fairfax, a 15.1-hand Thoroughbred mare with springs in her legs and an adorable face that attracted all sorts of attention from folks at the show. Her test was good for her experience – we stayed in the ring, did all the moves, and she tried really hard. Can’t ask for more than that! In the jumping, Fairfax got a bit spooked by the activity in the warm-up, so I took a bit of extra time to school her until she relaxed, which reduced the amount of time I had to switch to Willow.

I finally hopped on Willow and jumped the crossrail twice, the vertical once, and they were calling us in. She kicked butt! She jumped with tons of strength and concentration, got all her leads on landing and was adjustable and attentive to me. Looking at the photos, I love how she’s using her neck so well and keeps her ears pricked. She looks so happy doing her job – that’s why I compete her under the name Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me!

Go pony go! Photo by Naomi Eastwood

Go pony go! Photo by Naomi Eastwood

We went straight to the startbox after show jumping and I gave her a good confident ride to the first, then settled in and let her do her thing. She had a great rhythm and balance the whole way around even though we had to trot at the end so we didn’t get a speeding ticket. She was again really adjustable and seemed to have a good time. It’s time to move up! Hooray!

Since my last post I’ve been on the road quite a bit, returning to Pine Top once more to work for Mark Lehner, then to the Carolina International to cover for Eventing Nation, then to The Fork Horse Trials to work for the famed Shannon Brinkman – a total dream come true.

Coming up is the busiest time of the year, every year. Poplar Place, Rolex, Heart of the Carolinas, Jersey Fresh, a wedding, and then a breather and a chance to schedule more outings with the super pony and the other Ketchen Place horses. Thanks for reading!

A week away from home


This past Sunday I returned home after spending a week on the road, heading first down to Ocala, Florida for the USEA Young Horse Symposium before heading to Thomson, Georgia for the second time in February to photograph the event with Mark Lehner and the Hoofclix crew.

Although I did write several articles about the USEA Young Horse Symposium for EN, I was there out of personal interest too, as I’m now working part time at a barn working with young horses and learning about sport horse breeding. The barn owner wasn’t able to go, but she encouraged me to attend and report back. I’m really glad I did.

I learned a lot about evaluating a young horse under saddle and pedigree analysis. I also got to do a bit of networking and hang out with some pals from Virginia who were either in Ocala for the seminar or wintering in sunny Florida.

I was really blown away by Maren Engelhardt, an incredibly knowledgeable woman when it comes to pedigrees and breeding horses. I was glad to meet her and get some valuable feedback about Fey (she likes her!) and stallions I’ve considered for her.

My favorite session, however, was David O’Connor’s 40-minute discussion about bringing young horses along properly and strengthening the pipeline for producing young horses through the levels in the United States. We know David is a good coach, but it’s clear he cares a lot about the horses and their wellbeing. Robin Walker also made some fine points on this same topic, including riders needing to learn to be producers as well as competitors, and taking the time to care for a horse mentally during its development and the course of its career. That’s horsemanship, folks.

Secrets to Michael Pollard’s Dressage Skills

From Young Horse to Team Horse with David O’Connor

Roundtable Discussion: Developing the Young and Future Event Horse Programs

(Click here for more Young Horse Symposium articles)


I’ve known Mark Lehner for several years, and he was always so nice to me when I was just coming into photographing at horse shows. He also has a great crew of photographers working with him that I now call friends. So I’m really grateful to get to work with him this year and learn and better myself as a photographer.

I pulled double-duty at the two Pine Top events in February shooting for Mark during the day and writing up score reports for EN in the evening. The big “drama” at the second event was the insane temperatures that we knew were coming well ahead of time. I packed well in preparation and have to say I wasn’t miserable. I had my snow boots, my long underwear, good coats, etc. I’d say the only thing I had to adjust to was wearing gloves with fingers, which I don’t normally do while shooting as it makes working the buttons a little clunky. But in 20 degrees, I’ll suck it up and wear the gloves.

I didn’t write this one, but from the photos you’ll see the kind of weather we were dealing with. (7 Photos of the Frozen Water Jump at Pine Top).

Thankfully it warmed up on Saturday, but Sunday it pretty much rained all day. Which is annoying only because trying to keep the camera dry is annoying. But again, I was so strangely slap happy to be at that show that I didn’t really mind the weather so much. I should start packing coolers of sandwich stuff though, instead of eating granola bars and bananas from the hotel for three days.

Journalism These Days

A portrait from Cruz Control's holiday photo shoot at Little Kentucky Farm.

A portrait from Cruz Control’s holiday photo shoot at Little Kentucky Farm.

I mentioned in my last post that I had embarked on some new creative projects. As it happens, I was welcomed on board as a freelancer at Eventing Nation, for which I was a writer in its earliest days, circa 2010.

Since then EN has developed into the go-to source for eventing news and event coverage, with significant international reach. EN is comprised of an amazing team of talented journalists and I’m pretty stoked to be a part of that team.

Since picking up with EN in December, I’ve been able to work on a number of special stories. Here are a few of my recent favorites:

Francis Whittington Clinic Report: Part 1, Part 2

Rider Profile, Julie Richards: Part 1, Part 2

Take No Liberties: Francis Whittington’s Keys to Success

Nantucket Summers: Meghan Perry’s Island Treasure

Runs on Stilts Stands Tall as Maryland’s Most Wanted Thoroughbred

Peregrine Farm: Breeding By the Book

These next three are difficult describe. They cover important issues and were challenging to produce, both in covering the delicate nature of the topics and in an attempt to do justice the strength of the people and horses involved. But I’m proud to have been able to tell these stories, which are ongoing.

Hope the Wonderhorse: A Starved Filly with the Will to Live

Contaminated Horse Feed Causes Panic in Georgia

32 Horses in Andrew Palmer’s Barn Exposed to Monensin

I will also be producing monthly short stories for eCovertside, the magazine of mounted foxhunting, for which my good friend Katy Carter is an editor.

I’ll try to remember to include links to articles in the future. I have some seriously adorable photos from a recent shoot to share with you soon as well.

Don’t forget to follow Threlkeld Creative on Facebook, where I post links and updates as often as I remember. xo


New Things

It’s been quite a while since I’ve updated the blog… I apologize! I have several exciting updates for you.

Here are a few housekeeping notes:

  • You may or may not notice that no longer points to this blog. Instead it now points directly to my Smugmug site, which I use primarily to display my photography portfolio and load galleries for clients.
  • The URL for this blog is now, so please update your bookmarks. If you are subscribed to my blog and receive emails when I post new things, you don’t have to change anything. If you are NOT subscribed to my blog… you should be! Click “sign me up!” in the sidebar to the right.
  • I have officially formed Threlkeld Creative, LLC for all my writing, photography, announcing and such. For several years I have operated as a sole proprietorship, and though Uncle Sam still sees it that way, I feel so very official.
  • You can now find my business page on Facebook! Check out Leslie Threlkeld Creative and “like” it.

Back in November I gave notice at the USEA. Having started out freelancing for the website in 2008, the magazine in 2011, and being hired on full-time in 2012, it was an indescribably educational, exhilarating, and fulfilling experience. I met many of my closest friends through this position and gained immeasurable experience in the journalism field. I am lucky to have been able to combine my lifelong passion of eventing with my career, and I am so grateful for the opportunity.

Since resigning from my position as editor, I have been working on several creative projects and am excited for the year ahead. I’ll bring you up to speed in another post. Until then, thanks for your support, my friends! Happy belated new year!

Some Favorites: Meg’s Family Photoshoot

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Do they belong in a catalog or what?

I was incredibly honored to be asked to photograph Meg and her beautiful family a few weeks ago.

Morgan Family-0469-web


I’ve known Meg since our days at Wood’n Horse Stables. She is now a wife, a mother, and has just moved to an incredible barn. I’m so happy for her!

Meg and Boss-0032-BW-web

One of my new personal favorites of my entire collection.

We started off with Meg and her horse Boss, who was very well behaved and photogenic! I have to thank my mom for being my “ears” expert. It was great to have her along to watch me work.

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Meg herself was fascinating. Even when her hair was blowing crazy in the wind, she looked like a model. All of her photos were stunning.

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So. Pretty.

Meg and Tommy’s daughter, Maggie, is an absolute doll.

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Maggie loves to look for mushrooms (and pick them, not eat them). That was a great activity for her to do, and I was very impressed that a not-yet 2-year-old could follow instructions like “put it in your right hand.” What a smart girl!

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Somewhat unconventional as a portrait, but my favorite of the bunch. Very Andrew Wyeth.

I have to give a shout-out to Tommy, who was such a good participator! Sometimes it can take some work to get husbands engaged in a photoshoot, but Tommy rocked. He had a great attitude and “followed” his family around, standing in just the right spot all the time, smiling adoringly.

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We started to lose Maggie after about a half hour, so she was cut loose and decided on her own to climb the fence, which resulted in some great shots! I love how the unplanned moments are often the best.

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This was not a posed shot! Completely natural.

Thank you to Meg and her lovely family. We had great fun and I hope to work with them again!

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Little Kentucky Farm Fall Photoshoots

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Currently for sale: Playitagain Howie, a four-year-old Thoroughbred after my own heart.

I feel very fortunate to have been the unofficial official photographer of Little Kentucky Farm for several years. Owner Zeb Fry and I always have a good time working together with the horses to capture special moments on camera. Our goal is always to make sure the horse’s personality comes across in the pictures.



Most of Zeb’s sale horses are quality Thoroughbred ex-racehorses, but one of our earliest shoots together was for Stella Luna, a stunning Trakehner mare we would have much rather kept for ourselves than sold. This mare was unbelievable on camera and remains one of my favorite photoshoots ever.

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Leslie and Louie!

Sometimes I’m lucky enough to get to ride one of Zeb’s horses. This is me on Louie, who’s registered name is Eor the Terrific. How amazing is that? He does have pretty incredible ears. Click the link on his name to see his pedigree, which is full of distance influence.

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Currently for sale: Louie has a lovely, easy canter.

I’ve always loved bringing along young horses. There is so much gratification when they learn, making it almost impossible to have a dull ride. I’m so impressed with Louie. He’s an old soul, and at three years old he behaves like a veteran. I’d sure like to ride him again myself, but I’d feel comfortable putting my mom on his back and sending them out into the hunt field. This horse will be able to take his rider wherever he or she wants to go.

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Kramer, Leslie, and Louie

Check out the gallery below for a couple of my favorite photos from Howie and Louie’s shoots last weekend as well as LKF sale horse Cruz Control’s photoshoot earlier this year, and make sure to visit for more information on these three horses. If you want photos of your own sale horses, contact me at!