This past weekend Mastercraft (EZ) and I completed our first Intermediate together. I honestly never expected to make it this far with this horse. Coming off the cross country course today, I was practically in tears because I was just so happy.
But I am jumping ahead of myself. So here is the story of my Intermediate Move-Up weekend!
I think we all know that this is not what a trailer tire should look like. But unfortunately that is (was) my trailer tire. As we were on our way to Chatt Hills in Fairburn, Georgia this guy drove past us waving us down. It seemed to be a little smoke coming from behind us, but it was actually us. So we pulled over onto the side of I-75, looked in disbelief, and wondered why this always happens to us. But my bad luck with cars is another blog for a rainy day! After we figured out what was going on we got the tire off, and limped on three wheels to the rest stop a mile up the road. Then we unloaded EZ, switched the side of the trailer he was on, and drove to Advanced Autoparts. After 4 hours, several fails, a changed bearing, and walking my horse around Advanced and CVS in Macon, GA, we made it to Chatt around 11 PM.
Braided and in bed by 1:15 AM when I had to be up at 6 was very saddening. But EZ had a super nice flat school before chilling and heading to the ring. We only did long and low warm up. We didn't collect the reins, canter, or do a simple shoulder in. I have a few things to adjust but this was one of our most relaxed tests. Even though I forgot the words to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" while I was in the ring!
We show jumped that afternoon. Let me tell you. I was honestly a bit in awe that I was competing against all these upper level people. But I went to business and am thankful for the people who helped set jumps. Caroline Martin and Jessie Hartford ran it super efficiently, adjusting when anyone needed it! Jessie is my mother and my trainer so that is fun! I froze going into my first fence and had a rail, which was my fault. The final pole of the triple also came down, but for my first Intermediate it really isn't bad!
Cross Country was Sunday morning and my jitters that always come kicked in insanely early. I had two combinations I was a little worried about, just because they were tougher then something I had ever ridden before. But we headed out on the course and he was a cross country machine. Fences were coming up so fast! I made it through the ones I was worried about super smoothly. Fence 14 I lost my stirrup. As I galloped I tried to get it back, but as it was flapping I could not get it. So I just gave up trying to get it as it was slowing me down. There were 7 jumps left on the course including a massive table and two combinations.
I completed the course with 4.8 time penalties, which for my first Intermediate is amazing. I had the fourth fastest time of the day which moved me up to 7th place in my first Intermediate. All in all it was an amazing weekend and I am so excited to head out on the cross country course with EZ again in a month and a half!
This week I had the opportunity to go to Rolex again. It was an amazing experience, I mean it is the best weekend ever! I was able to see Michel Jung make history by winning Rolex 3 years in a row. I was also able to help out C4 belts during the busiest times there and I may have splurged and bought some things for my ponies. But that isn't exactly the reason I am writing this blog.
I attended a talk that the Retired Racehorse Project had that was on future things that could be happening as well as Makeover plans for this year. One of the biggest things though is making sure people see Thoroughbreds not just as fragile horses, but instead as useful sport horses in all disciplines.
So I decided I would look at some statistics from the Rolex completions from the past two years. I wanted to go 2-3 more years back but I can only find 2016 and obviously 2017 results.
In 2016 eighty-six percent of thoroughbreds who ran around Rolex completed the event. And it was a rough muddy course. 71% of the other horses completed the whole show, but like I said the cross country was rainy, slick, and an absolute mess. So last year 75% of all the horses who started completed. Derek Di Grazia and the weather made sure to make it a tough 4* course.
this year the cross country killed a good bit of people. The questions were rough, and there were a few falls, as well as many issues with fences. The Land Rover Landing definitely added it's fair share of problems with the skinny arrowhead after coming off a sharp turn to a skinny arrowhead.
This year 66% of the TB starters completed the course. A few falls, a few issues, but anyone who made it through cross country continued onto show jumping. 65% of the others completed the whole event, two were withdrawn before jogs, and one more was spun at jogs. This cross country course was brutal and prove it time and time again.
Rolex first timer, pictured above, Woodge Fulton won the best conditioned horse award. Captain Jack came off the track and proved himself to be a cross country machine yesterday. And a fit one at that. He still had go in his tank at the end of the cross country course.
I wish I could find the results for the past 5 years for the complete show. But I can find the best conditioned horse. This year a OTTB won it. In the past Opposition Buzz and Donner have won it. I'm sure as have many other thoroughbreds. They are horses who are slightly easier to get fit than the warmblood counterparts like James Alliston said in the Off The Track Thoroughbred magazine.
The Thoroughbreds, even those raced, have proved they can do it. So who are we to rule them out? That's what my barn is and I have some talented young horses. We just have to be willing to take the time to make our horses and not buy made horses from over seas.
Last year I had the chance to go to Rolex and see some pretty amazing horses. I am extremely interested in the OTTB aspect of things. Out of 72 horses who competed, 24 were thoroughbreds. Out of those 23, 16 of those horses had raced.
The completion rate of Rolex was rather high. 54 riders out of 72 completed. 1 withdrew before dressage, 1 withdrew before XC, 2 were eliminated, and 19 of the thoroughbreds completed. 82% of the thoroughbreds completed the 4* track. 71% of the others completed the course as well.
The long format left eventing in 2004. That is when Rolex ran their final long format event. 2004 is when more rotational falls were occuring. People think rotational falls are caused by riders going to fast at fences. But that does not explain why steeple chasers can go out and do the same. While a chasers fence is a brush through fence, so it isn't completely the same comparison, we can still understand that these horses are able to think on their feet and judge. While most rotational falls are happening on a square faced jump, we need horses who aren't afraid to tell the rider, I have a sense of when I need to take off and this is when we will do so. We can't think completely for out horse. Because sometimes we do mess up. That is my point between the chasers and xc. We can't completely think for them. One of our biggest problems right now is the lack of thoroughbred blood in our eventers.
Think about a steeple chaser. They have to think for themselves. In Eventing we are now expecting the riders to think for the horses. We want an amazing mover to win dressage. But the horse has to be calm. We want a horse who we collect and have to make think in the show jump ring where they need to jump around clear. But what about cross country. Sure, those horses can make time on Beginner Novice, Novice, and Training cross country. But then horses who aren't meant to gallop take on bigger fences and faster times. As they continue to move up the levels the jumps get higher, the time gets faster, and it becomes harder on the Warmblood's.
So what happens? We switched the format. We went from 4 phases, roads and tracks, steeple chase, and the actual cross country course. Warmbloods take a lot more time to get fit, they aren't built for the speed and strength, but they are built for the dressage phase. We start that from a young age now too. I took my 3 year old OTTB mare to the Future Event Horse show. And not really to my surprise, the thicker built, lofty movement of the young warmbloods trump the thoroughbreds. And that is where the problem is beginning. We judge by the Warmblood build from the start!
So when we get a warmblood's brain. Which can't think completely on its feet completely. A warmblood tends to be quieter, less hyper, and we have to analyze fences now.
We need to integrate more Thoroughbred blood toward eventing. Our horses don't have to go through the rigorous fitness we used to for a long format. I am not saying bring the long format back. But lets bring the TB's back and less warmbloods. This will begin to help with the falls due to heart issues, the rotational falls from being tired, and not having other major issues. Guess what! Thoroughbreds have falls too! I don't want to name riders but in the horses I researched a few were tbs, a few were warmbloods, and a few were mixes. But it could help with the heart attacks on course, which again also happen with TB's, but they don't happen as often there.
The biggest cross country power houses tend to be thoroughbreds because of the ability to have an amazing gallop. If we as Americans start to bring back the thoroughbreds, we will be able to build a field of horses where there isn't so much emphasis on the dressage phase and the movement of it all.
Denny Emerson put out a Facebook post a few weeks ago. Basically what he said was, " You should take a 1 year old colt, and train him through advanced while he stays a stallion. Then you breed the stallion to a very well thought out mare, and you get a foal. Then you raise that foal and you compete it through advanced." It is a long plan but for the people who try, it is very much worth it. Why don't we try that? Not even exactly what Denny said. But why don't people search for the OTTB's that we can bring up from the beginning.
The Retired Racehorse Project is beginning to let that progress. Now we are beginning to move forward in bringing Thoroughbreds out into the world. They don't have to be pure, but a majority of TB blood. I have decided that my barn is going to be "American Made." I don't want fancy imports, I want horses that I have purpose bred for eventing and I want to bring OTTB's. So I want to be the start of a change.
Why import when you can find amazing horses in America, who run stronger longer.
What should a Working Student do? What should they receive in return? How should board, lessons, housing, etc. be worked out? These are all huge questions in the never ending cycle of Working Students. A working student is basically this. A person who works for a trainer grooming, tacking, mucking stalls, bathing, and any other farm chores in exchange for lessons, sometimes board, or housing. There are a lot of problems these days though with a working student. Like my title says its a two way street. The student can not expect to do nothing around the barn but ride the top horses in the barn and get lessons every day of the week. However it flips around the same way with the instructor. You can not with hold lessons from a student if they are working their butts off for you and proving they belong there. You get what you put into it. If you do not put into it you could be asked to leave. You are here to work, not for stuff to be handed to you.
A lot is said about "the millennials." The stereotype is that we don't want to work. Now I say we because I am one of the millennials. I say stereotype because for all of us that is not true. There are plenty of us out there who are willing to work, make those long days worth it so that we are able to move up and become the next pros. As a young rider trying to work up the levels without money its tough. But it can be doable. People who want stuff given to them are everywhere. Not just here but you see it in schools, sports, and day to day life. But I am getting a bit off topic here. We are here and we are willing to work but it needs to be known that it goes both ways. I am going to write the rest of the blog from a rider perspective as well as a trainer perspective because I think we need to look through the eyes of both to see what is really going on here.
When you are hiring a working student you need to have a list of what is expected, what is offered, and have a contract signed. This way you have set in writing what you expect and what you are offering. What do you expect a working student to do? They should groom at home and at shows, hold for farrier, vet, etc., tack and untack, muck stalls, scrub water buckets, feed, water, picking fields, and other farm chores. But this doesn't mean you run your working student into the ground. A working student should not be worked so hard that they have absolutely no time in their day to eat, drink, or ride their own horse. They are coming to work but also to learn from you. The only thing you are learning then is how not to run a barn if they ever go pro. Even though they are and should be expected to groom at shows, they still need to have time to compete their own, otherwise how is this benefiting them? Teach them. Give them the ways of how things are done in the barn, let them watch a lesson or two that you teach. You are taking part in creating the next generation. We need it to thrive. You are creating riders for the 2028 and 2032 Olympics without knowing it yet.
But Working Students. Let me repeat that. WORKING Students. You can't go to a farm expecting to just ride. Guess what. You are going to cry, you are going to want to give up, but that is what makes it worth it. Should you be showing every weekend? No. And you should not expect to. Should you expect to ride the barns top horses every day? No. If you ride chances are you will be thrown on some babies. You can not walk into the barn expecting to be given everything. But the harder you work your butt off the more your trainer will notice. I am not saying you will always receive more. But it can happen. You are aiming to become better. Think about it. Why are you being a working student?
What should you expect to receive as a working student? Reduced to free board for one horse, housing, a small stipend for food, lessons 2-3 times a week, and a day off once a week. And let me be clear. I am most definitely not saying you should expect everything I just listed. Except for the last two. Because everyone needs a chance to relax. And you are there to learn. All your horses care should still come out of your pocket. But..
Now this all being said. Work your butt off for your "boss" but treat your working student right. Working students, be respectful, pay attention. Write down things you have learned and pay attention. Keep the barn organized, neat, tidy. But don't let yourself get mauled over and worked into the ground with absolutely nothing in return. Trainers, make them work. Don't give them what they don't deserve but when they go above and beyond, reward it! This is a major key is making sure they know you see them working. Don't do it all the time. But occasionally it is okay to reward the people who are always there.
Talk to each other. Before it begins make a list of goals, a list of rules, anything you could need. Treat each other with respect. Stay off your phone and do what is needed to be done. Work your heart out so you can succeed.
Final closing thoughts and I am done. Working Students, this is not exactly a riding opportunity to ride 5-6 horses a day. You are being paid in knowledge, lessons, and just the satisfaction of knowing what to do in situations. Trainers, your working student is not slave labor. Do not treat them like that. Be fair, but do not be lenient or all rules will go down hill. Treat each other well and you will not be sorry. Treat each other wrong and someones reputation could be bashed. That is not a good place. Be fair, be kind, and have fun.