Category Archives: The Willow Show

Willow Completes Her First Recognized Event!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!


Recognized Debut Postponed

Sadly, mine and Willow’s recognized horse trials debut has been postponed. She suffered a minor injury during a jump school and will have a couple of weeks off work. Luckily, the vet confirmed that all the important structures in her leg (bones, tendons, and ligaments) are in perfect shape. She just knocked herself and has a contusion (bump) that is really sore. I get these all the time when I turn corners too quickly or forget about the locations of heavy furniture in the house.

It took a couple of days to get an appointment with the vet, so it was stressful not knowing what was wrong… that it could be nothing, but it could also be something serious.

I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly happened. She was jumping around really well through a fairly challenging grid exercise. She snaps her knees up to her eyeballs and has discovered she can make the horse strides and really goes for it. We were almost done (it’s always when you’re almost done) and she jumped a little disorganized through, so I turned around to do it once more. We completed the grid, turned the corner, and she started hopping. I got off immediately and she seemed to walk out of it on the way back to the barn. She hadn’t knocked any rails down or hit anything hard enough for me to notice and think “ouch!”, so I was really afraid that she landed badly and strained something. A knot appeared almost immediately and then the swelling creeped up her fetlock and the heat was intense. Compare the photos below (left is the injured left leg, right is the happy right leg) and you can see the difference where there is a bit of “fill” high on the outside of the left fetlock.

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So for the next several days we iced, poulticed, wrapped, and kept her on stall rest, which means we did a lot of this:

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The swelling did decrease, but the heat did not. Both Willow and I were thankful that she was cleared to go back outside with her friends and prescribed a few weeks of Previcox and rest.

I’m bummed to have had to withdraw from WindRidge but very relieved that Willow is fine! She’s tough and I’m sure she’ll be ready to get back to work soon. She loves her job, but I’ll have to find her a good pair of boots for jumping from now on!


Windridge Photos

Wind in Mane Photography Photo

Wind in Mane Photography Photo

Photos of Willow and I riding at the Windridge Schooling Show have been posted. Click here to see the whole gallery. I apparently forget how to smile, but Willow has a number of awesome expressions, and some really nice moments in all three gaits. Good girl pony Willow!


The Willow Show – Chestnut Creek Schooling Horse Trials, July 2014

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Good pony!

I set a goal to enter a recognized horse trials with Willow this fall. So when I came across the Chestnut Creek Schooling Horse Trials Series in Salisbury, I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to get Willow out to a three-phase event and see how she goes. I coerced my barn pal Katie into coming too, and Cortney came along and hung out and took pictures.

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We entered the 2-foot Maiden class; I know she can do cross rails, and I wanted to challenge us both a little. It was really great to have a goal to work towards during daily schooling once I’d entered. Willow gets stronger all the time and is just so clever and cool!

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The day of the show just could not have gone better. Katie had great rides with Bravo, who has a history of being a bit of a pill away from home. And the pony was a superstar. She finished on her dressage score and showed a real aptitude for showing and eventing. Not only was this our first three-phase together, this was my first full cross-country course in seven years, the last being Preliminary level at Poplar Place with Sam. I’m glad to report that I still know how to do it, and it feels good to say “I’m an eventer” having actually recently evented.

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Show time? Nah.. I’m pretty sure it’s nap time.

Chestnut Creek was a really awesome venue. It was adorable, well laid out, and the atmosphere was really relaxed and learning-oriented.

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How cute is this barn?!

What was really special for me was having so many friends with me in spirit at this event. We had the bridle Katy Carter gave us for my birthday, the gloves Naomi gave me, the girth mom got Willow for Christmas, and the embroidered saddle pad Hannah gave us for Christmas.

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Srsly. Nap time.

In hind sight, I might should have given Willow a slightly longer warm up for dressage, but it was going to be a long, humid day, and I was more concerned about good performances over fences than winning on the flat. There was a lot to look at in the warm-up, with Pony Clubbers grilling under a tent right at the fence, horses coming at you from the opposite direction, trees and uneven terrain and such, but holy moly she had some nice moments and settled into working fairly quickly.

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So proud.

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There was some discontent regarding the judge’s comments on some rides… she certainly wasn’t giving scores away or being “schooling show friendly”… but I was very pleased at how we were judged. As we came down the centerline and Willow’s head got higher looking at the shadowy blue tent ahead, the judge had that “bless her heart” look on her face.

Walk/trot tests are easy, but cantering and staying focused is really hard! I totally flubbed the first canter transition, but we got the second (eventually). Willow was a little tense yet showed moments of pure brilliance. She got a couple 7s on trot work and an 8 on the final turn up the centerline.

The judge wrote on our test: “Super talent. Continue to encourage confidence and relaxation with an elastic connection. Continue to improve prompt canter departs with more lateral balance.” I wholeheartedly agree and love the “super talent” part. In the collective marks, Willow got a 7 on her gaits and I got a 7 for rider with the comment “well handled” which made me laugh.

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Show jumping was nice and inviting with a bit of a terrain challenge. Willow was great and I don’t even care that I got laughed at for talking to her the whole time. Double-clear and adorable!

On to the most fun part! There had been tons of rain the day before but it had been steady, not a torrential downpour, so the footing was actually great. The only place where the footing was iffy was in front of the first fence, unfortunately, and though she jumped it a little awkward, when she looked and I kicked, she said “okay!”

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By the time we went over this mound and pointed to number three, Willow was ready to canter. “Why are we going so slow?!”

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By the end of the course, Willow was confident in her distances and taking me to the jumps. There were a couple fences early on where I should have been less “passive,” which is a bad habit I have in my attempts to not micromanage. Otherwise, the course flew by (there were only 10 jumps) and I was so stinkin proud. She never acted like she wasn’t going to go and seemed to have a really good time! We even timed it right, coming in four or five seconds under optimum time.

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We were one of two in a class of six to finish on our dressage score and got second place! Chestnut Creek was a great experience and we will be back for sure! I’m feeling very confident in entering Windridge in October at Beginner Novice now. I’d like to get a couple lessons in with a trainer in Tryon and school cross-country at FENCE, and hopefully we can find another schooling show to get out and do some more dressage tests, too.

I had a silly grin plastered on my face the whole day and was totally over the moon at every moment. I’m obsessed with this pony and having such a fun time with her! Thank you Amy Keller for letting us play and to all our friends for their support.

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