If you are looking for a conventional recap of the USHJA Annual Meeting this year in Denver, please refer to the Plaid Horse and/or Chronicle articles. If you are home for the holidays, have nothing better to do, and feel like taking a walk inside my head, by all means, let me entertain you with my own perspective. It is long, not that interesting, and covers a lot of material…. If you are going to read it, read it all, answer the questions at the end, or turn back here. No judgement. My opinion is not law.


December 2019

Alarmingly naive and unprepared, I started regularly attending these USHJA Annual meetings a few years ago in hopes you would share the experience with me, learn with me, and be left to help develop the sport after I was gone. I cared, but I was really hoping more people would care alongside me for the sake of the industry. We all need the work, after all. No work, no purpose.

I realize now how broken our system really is, and I am standing on the edge of it, wondering if it isn’t better to simply embrace the broken. After all, when you look around at horse show people, we are often …. broken.

Over the course of the first decade of the USHJA, circa 2004, it seems like ten thousand committees were formed to keep people (like us, but more famous) busy with a variety of ideas, proposals, thoughts, and whatever else to launch the newly formed Association into existence. The ‘think tank’ of equestrians came up with some brilliant plans and took advantage of the wave of prosperity in the horse world, remarkably joining an incredible group of stubborn, hard headed, and independent individuals – the horse show equestrians. These dedicated horse people created programs within the USHJA, catering to just about every known individual who could balance on the back of a horse, and many of us know about those programs.

We know Derby Finals, Green Incentive Finals, EAP,  Child/Adult Jumper Champs, Hunterdon Cup, HQC, Gold Star Clinics, and maybe a few others right? The more involved you are with horse showing, chances are the more programs you are familiar with, correct? Correct. I would spare a guess the average trainer can name 7 of the programs offered within the USHJA without looking it up on the website. There are not merely 7 programs within the USHJA, however.

Equestrians, as a society, were starting to feel overwhelmed; information, and opportunities were coming from all directions, and we had to learn social media at the same time, (lol). No one said STOP! We have enough programs, let’s hit the pause button so we can grow those programs specifically. If some one did say STOP! then his/her voice was drowned out in a flurry of commotion, confusion and creation of more programs, more activity,  and more money.

USHJA meet Icarus.

Being overwhelmed can be a really big deal for people. I know it is for me. I hate it. I basically become a giant asshole and lose friends. (I guess I spend a lot of time being overwhelmed). Some people lose more. When an Association becomes overwhelmed, good creators simply leave, lose hope, become tired of hitting the same old red tape, hearing ‘no’ one too many times, or ‘be quiet, this is confidential’ and return to their horses – fingers crossed they still have customers at the end of the day, maybe try to stay partly in the game with the programs they helped to create, but truthfully probably just want to simplify their lives.

After all, no one was compensating them for their time ‘thinking or creating’.

The ‘creating of new programs’ becomes more of a deterrent to newer up and coming good thinkers because it is no longer a fun environment to be creative in, it is fucking work. Regular people start looking for explanations, start looking for answers, and start wondering what could be different. Whenever I wonder why this blog took on a life of its own, I keep coming back to my initial motivation. I wanted clarity about why my dues were being raised. When I started seeking clarity, I discovered others looking, too. I found a lot of commotion, then created my own. I also realized the time people spent explaining shit to me was staggering. If I had to make my own pie chart it would look like this:


The State of the Association. and SPC. 

You can see for yourself, the pie charts are all on the USHJA website.

The slides all at once aren’t clear. We had a lot of material thrown our direction Tuesday morning. I started to take notes, but gave up. It was tremendous. Overwhelming. I vowed to sort it out later if the materials could be made available. I looked around and saw most people were starting to check their phones.

Now, one by one, looking at each slide is a little easier to comprehend, yet I am not sure what I am looking at. Or, why. Or who for. I think some of these pie charts are dangerous to share with ignorant people, because assholes like me start asking inappropriate questions, and next thing you know a staff member gets fired. Just kidding, that’s not how the world works.

Screen Shot 2019-12-25 at 8.21.15 AMScreen Shot 2019-12-25 at 8.20.44 AM

Here is another link to take you to the presentation, in case you missed it the first time :


I should applaud the efforts of the strategic planning council for spending a gross amount of time this year working out how to simplify the erratically built USHJA. Andrew Philbrick, Sissy Wickes, Britt McCormick, and Cheryl Rubenstein set aside their families, horses, and whatever else to conceptualize an easier and stronger Association. Maybe the issue in 2004 was that the USHJA was desperately needed, but fabricated by equestrians, not business people.  What was not known about forming a new organization was filled in with the same bullshit we use to sell horses. It worked for a time, but eventually the drugs wore off and the horse went lame. Years later, we really need to restructure…. something.

After the new Strategic Plan was revealed to us, the audience (that’s us) was invited to contribute feedback.  Some people said thank you, we can’t wait to see it all work out!  It was almost a slow clap moment. Like, maybe this should have been accomplished already. I mean, I get it now, but, I am not sure what was expected of us directly following the presentation. No one won anything.

Eventually and rather inadvertently, one person changed course a bit by mentioning the absence of thoroughbred programs on the West Coast and literally like ten people jumped up all at once to talk about thoroughbreds, their personal experiences with thoroughbreds, the success of Thoroughbred programs, the insane wildfire of activity in the nation surrounding the thoroughbred, what about this for the thoroughbred, has anyone seen my program for thoroughbreds?? etc. etc. etc. You get the idea. People like to talk about subjects they are comfortable with, right? Maybe it was twenty people who jumped up, I lost count.  If it wasn’t so upsetting to see the look on the faces of the horsemen on the stage, it would have been more humorous than it was. There was a small attempt to stifle the conversation, but no luck, it only fired up more people. In the blink of an eye, it went from the future of the USHJA right to the future of the thoroughbred. Sigh. and LOL.

I stifled a laugh ( I couldn’t help it)  as I remembered I have been working for the last two years to bring a lower height to the Thoroughbred division we offer on the Zone level, hoping to bank on the shift of the people, but was met with more resistance than I anticipated. Meanwhile, off the rated circuit, we all watch a 2’6″ Thoroughbred height flourishing like gangbusters, and I have to wonder if our ship has sailed once again. Oh well.

(Just for clarification, I was not the one who brought up the topic of Thoroughbreds at the State of the Association)


Screen Shot 2019-12-15 at 9.15.33 AM

It’s a joke, everyone should know how much I love TB’s.



Hunter Champs for 3′ riders (.90-m riders).

Since early this past spring, I have pushed nearly everything concerning national horse governance out of my mind. My priorities changed, I was forced out of work to recover, I barely wrote a word or paid attention, and even though I never assumed the USHJA was in good hands, I certainly didn’t give it much thought. The only time I remember finding the urge to climb out of bed for a volunteer position was when I didn’t want the Zone 3 Child/Adult Hunter Championships to be without a chef d’equipe for their finals, but we couldn’t find anyone to volunteer for the position, so I took my very first road trip following my heart surgeries to Tryon, North Carolina. It was stupid on my part to commit to a long trip three months following hospitalization, but I did, despite my doctors raising all of their eyebrows (I’m kidding, I didn’t tell them), and for many reasons, it was well worth it. I enjoyed the experience quite thoroughly, I saw friends I hadn’t seen in ages, (nor expected to see again), and it was a great experience for the child/adult riders attending. The show management clearly made an effort to entertain this fairly new USHJA program, and it went off remarkably well, we learned a lot, and everyone agreed they would try to support it again. I had no students competing, no compensation for my presence, but there was enough satisfaction in the trip to make me a little less pessimistic about the future of our sport. Some of the experience admittedly is a blur, it took three naps on the way home to make it, but I did it, held up my USHJA swag proudly, and said yay! go Teams! I reported back to the Child/Adult Hunter Championships committee chair my thoughts on future improvements, and warnings for other events following ours (we were first on the 2019 calendar) and put my energy back into recovery.

Screen Shot 2019-12-25 at 8.51.54 AMScreen Shot 2019-12-25 at 8.51.45 AM

It may not have been enough. By now you have probably learned about the one year hiatus of the Child/Adult Hunter Championships. I won’t spend any more time to bemoan the loss, but I will invite you to help me bring it back if you want it. If you loved the program, would you tell your friends? Would you tell me? I am not sure why we couldn’t continue the Zone Hunter Championships specifically in the Zones who want it, but I aim to find out. Not all USHJA programs are required to be held in all Zones, so it makes little sense to me why the entire thing has to be axed across the nation? Hit me up with some more thoughts, and be sure to point out the irony here.

(If you are unfamiliar with the “Zones” in the USHJA, there are 12 Zones in this country. I live in Zone 3.)


Educate me.

I didn’t really care for the Zone Education portion of the meeting this year. It was a Town Hall, not an Education hour. Maybe one day a new vision I heard suggested of Zone Education will come to fruition. Set the tables up in the ballroom with EACH TABLE representing a Zone, invite collaboration between Zones, and offer clinics afterwards to help Zone committee members learn how to become licensed in Course Designing, Stewardship, or Judging right there on the first day. We can be encouraged to take the first step to becoming licensed, and if some people are already licensed, we can utilize their knowledge to be better officials. Mentorship, face to face interaction, do’s and do nots coming from our peers might be very helpful.  Help us develop our industry locally first, so eventually those people don’t walk away, but become better investors in our sport. I would love to be able to avoid private Zone meetings behind closed doors, because after all, there isn’t really anything private to be discussed in a Zone meeting. All the minutes are already posted online (for y’all to read as well), and typically the discussion is ‘open’ discussion or summary and review of our past competition year, mixed with thoughts on the year to come.

Parts of a new Zone restructure were indicated to us during the Zone Education hour, more of which was to be revealed in two more days.  If there had been a quiz on all of this at the end of the week, I would have received a D-.

I am not sure if we were all just tired, lost, or not really caring, but a lot of information went over our heads. I had to ask my ‘boss’ (Oliver Kennedy) to clarify what is happening with the Zones, but I think the basic summary is the USHJA is slimming down how information gets from riders to board members. So we, as a Zone committee, will have a better chance of informing the Board of Directors how we are managing our exhibitors in our Zone through one hunter enthusiast and one jumper enthusiast from each Zone. Funny how some people do both, but ok. I guess it doesn’t really matter. I don’t want to say Zones will start to be able to make more decisions for themselves on managing programs offered from the USHJA, but this actually might be a reality moving forward. Fingers crossed.


The burgundy coat joke got old real fast.

It started Sunday morning and stayed with us far into Thursday afternoon. It was funny once. Not so funny when it was uttered every time I walked in a room. Ask me about it when you see me next time… I am referring to the seemingly benign Rule Change Proposals (RCP’s) which draw out endless discussion on issues you may or may not feel passionate about.

1. Regulating Jump Cup Depth

2. Going metric in the hunter ring

3. Numbering the jumps for Equitation Finals.

4. JOGging, JUGlling, JOKing.

First, I googled Potter Steel jump cups, because I was lost. Why is it so important to regulate jump cup depth and use the correct jump cups in hunters and equitation? Don’t we do that already?


Screen Shot 2019-12-15 at 10.13.08 AMScreen Shot 2019-12-15 at 10.13.19 AM


Now I know what you are thinking, this should be common sense, right? At first glance it is, but do a little research and suddenly jump cup depth becomes a whole new ball of wax. I was beginning to wonder, just like the burgundy coat, if we were all missing the actual point here. (It is not about the color of the coat, it is about defining and clarifying what other people simply interpret for themselves.) So, as far as jump cups go, maybe we are at a point where we really do need a standardization.

The Equitation Committee has a lovely presentation about it.  <<–   Click on that highlighted word ‘presentation’ to get to it.

Screen Shot 2019-12-24 at 7.57.43 AM.png

I don’t know. I am guilty of dismissing RCP’s when I see them written out in the yellow book, and it is obvious I am not alone. I think to myself, no one will ever agree on jump cup depth, how will this become a rule? The committees should be deciding whether or not the rules are good enough to be dismissed or accepted and passed along to USEF, so why are we even wasting our brain cells here?

Secondly, I tried to ‘imagine’ selling the metric system to ALL exhibitors, hunter, jumper or equitation across the country…..

cross rail hunters, .70 baby green hunters, .80 hunters, .80 equitation, .85 hunters, .75-.85 hunters, mares only, .90 green hunters?

My brain stuttered…

Maybe the American system is dated and archaic, no one can do the math, and USEF is very reluctant to send out letters informing exhibitors who have inadvertently jumped too high so they are no loner eligible for the division they want to receive points in because they didn’t realize the horse they rode in the 1.10 jumpers (3’7”)  disqualified them from being eligible for the 3’3” hunter division so now we need a rule instead of a helpful discussion? K.

Yes, I know you had to read a run-on sentence, but it seemed appropriate here.

Screen Shot 2019-12-15 at 8.42.18 AM

I don’t worry about the metric system affecting rated shows and exhibitors, I worry about the metric system not being used on the local level, and becoming yet another deterrent to cross over to the rated level.

Screen Shot 2019-12-28 at 8.19.15 AM

Screen Shot 2019-12-28 at 8.18.28 AM


Thirdly, I probably shouldn’t even go there with numbering the jumps in Big Equitation Finals, but it was pointed out there is nothing in the rule book which says you CAN’T number the jumps, so by all means, tell your show managers jumps must be numbered. Personally, jump cup depth I can be persuaded to understand and maybe even vote for, but a rule requiring numbering the jumps is not something I can see for the whole country. Yes, sometimes every single rider does a test incorrectly, but I see a learning opportunity, those mistakes won’t be repeated, and, do we number jumps for us or the spectators? 

What happens of you make a rule like this, it passes, then someone forgets to number the jumps, then, does that make the whole class void? The words ‘blame game’ come to mind.


Screen Shot 2019-12-15 at 8.44.20 AM


Fourth on that list – Jogging.  ::__:: there was so much discussion on jogging, I actually can’t remember where we ended with this one, so I made some shit up:

  1. We really should be jogging horses for soundness in every division
  2. Owners of lame horses are always going to pine for the wasted hours waiting for the jog
  3. if we do away with the jog, we will just have to bring it back in two years
  4. It really isn’t such a big deal to jog for soundness
  5. this is an annoying discussion
  6. I just lost five more friends

It is an archaic system, isn’t it.



Clipping or not clipping the muzzle. There is currently no rule regarding beards in the show ring, so there is no reason to invent one now. Don’t want to clip? Then don’t clip. No one will forget to give you a ribbon based on a beard. If you don’t get a ribbon and you claim it is because your horse has whiskers…..?

That’s how we got out of a national BAN on clipping whiskers.

180908_1DX_8809 w

look close all you beard lovers out there, it’s ok not to clip.


Boots on Hunters

Well, no?


Where do I go next?

The joys of being unable to see all meetings covering all areas of sport, because they all convene at the same time.

waiiittt, I have a question. Speaking of equitation, what happened with the equitation committee which was supposed to convene on Wednesday? Or was it Tuesday? I usually never go into that meeting for personal reasons (I don’t care for the part of our sport and am not fond of how those horses are treated) but I was curious if the Hunterdon Cup was going to be renamed. However, Six people were missing from the committee, a quorum was barely met, and a lengthy shaming occurred of those 6 people. Are we still allowed to shame people for not showing up?  I have a very active imagination, but that looked more like an intentional protest to me. Or, maybe there were not enough equitation issues to discuss? However, André and I are not like bff’s or anything so I couldn’t text him and be like “dude, where is everyone?” Did they not show up because they were worried about snow? Did they not show up because the RCP’s had already been discussed at great length? Big mystery. Even bigger silence.



An Amateur is an Amateur is an Amateur. I feel like if I keep repeating that phrase in ten years people will see an amateur is an amateur, no matter what height they are comfortable jumping or what horse they lease or own, or how old they are, or what demographic they come from. When those divisions were formed 300 years ago, I feel they were formed for specific people, not all people, and they were formed to keep certain people OUT of sport. Do we really need to be keeping people OUT of sport? Programs are being cut yet we insist on keeping people out of the competition ring?

The jumper discipline is actively working to bring those divisions forward into the 21st Century considering actual ownership of horses in sport. Amateurs seem to stand all over the map on this one, but take the time to think before you protest “God save the Amateur division!” Are you protesting to KEEP other amateurs out of your way so you can win more money for yourself with smaller and more complicated divisions, (leading to bigger headaches for show managers?) or, do you really believe the current setup is perfect? When we start to accept that no level playing field actually exists with horse showing, and your best friend might always have an advantage, we can move forward as a group.

As if I needed another reason to question motivation of Amateurs in the show ring, there is an actual rule regarding time frames surrounding Amateur Owner classes in the rulebook. I’ll give you five dollars if you can find it. Hint: it is on page 799 of 1221.

Hear that? Was that the sound of me losing more friends?

If the horse show world could take a step forward to really work together on the specifics of the amateur divisions – heights of jumps,  ownership eligibility, prize money awarded, etc., then maybe in the future we could work on the specifics of what really makes up an amateur versus a professional.

While you are standing still, the rest of the world is moving forward. And if it doesn’t work? Lesser rules have been reversed.

Hunters, don’t panic, you have ‘Tradition’ on your side….



Have you thought about the heights of smalls and the heights of larges in the junior hunters, and if they are truly correct? Well, not correct, but need updating? Discussion is starting to ensure one group doesn’t have more entries than another group. And should Devon offer 3’3″ Juniors? Shooby.

TCP or not to TCP.

Under construction. To be continued… and don’t freak out, if you were currently certified, you are still certified. But, they are looking for ways to credential trainers, not certify them. I think.

This poor program is a tough one for me. Are you more likely to be under the scrutiny of litigation with certification or without certification, does it affect what you charge for riding lessons, does it help you get more work, put you in a special category, disallow you from benefits, what is it about this country being too spread out to initialize certification? Money? Ignorance of state laws on horse activities?


Design me.

2021 will have a new requirement for Regional I and II shows, but two years should be an adequate time frame for the adjustment. Hello! to the certification needed for anyone designing courses on the Regional levels… yep, it is coming. I was against this when I heard about it  last year because I personally kind of like it when you don’t know how many strides are in a line and you can just make up shit as you ride along and if it works out, you still get a ribbon, maybe even a blue one! However, there is a strong belief courses on the Regional level are downright dangerous and what better way to attract future course designers than requiring managers to only hire certified ones. If it truly becomes law, I might participate in the certification, and drag my friends along, too. Why not be more educated on all aspects of equestrian sport?  If there is a silver lining, it could be a reality for certification to happen at the Zone level to expedite education and eliminate travel costs. Each Zone should already house enough certified CD’s to teach us dingdongs how to build a proper jump course.

Shit, though, will we have to measure the 72′ line in metric?? I’m out.


International Derbies.

There was no quorum in this meeting, but active discussion instead. Louise Serio promoted advancement in this area and sparked an interesting conversation. Consider for a moment how handy hunters are scored. Turn tight, receive high points.

(Speaking of Course Designers), should the handy courses offer a different track for different height options? Right now, bad jumpers can be awarded more for taking the handier track. So the handy points awarded are high, but the actual performance is low. Knowing their horses aren’t ready for those very handy turns riders choose wider tracks, jump lower, but have brilliant jumps…..and are penalized. Is this a bit backwards or does it truly align with judging hunters in the derby ring.

Do we want to see the horses with bad ‘front ends’ scoring higher and leading the class with wicked inside turns over the horses with good ‘front ends’, but conservative tracks and no inside turns?

Again, it was discussion, not rule making, but always keep the door open for improvement, right? Right.


Unintended Consequences.

A phrase all too common at horse conventions. Make a rule, then watch the rule cause a major deficit somewhere. Rescind the rule. Welcome to the Young Jumper Schooling Steward Rule Change Proposal of the last however many years. I think I remember there was a big push for a required schooling steward for those naughty Young Jumper riders who were riding in the wrong kind of hind boots, because they forgot to read the rule book, is that right? So when show managers went looking for this new required steward or wouldn’t pay for one, they simply dropped all of the Young Jumper Classes from the schedule. At least, that was what we were told.

My suspicion is show managers dropped the Young Jumper classes because no one was entering them, but what the heck do I know about Young Jumpers? I don’t have any. It is my understanding the requirement for a steward for the naughty rule breakers might be going away.


Rating Relevance. 

Show managers will have their work cut out for them as they re-negotiate relevant prize money in relation to show Ratings with the USEF. Billy Moroney is hot to bring horse showing into the 25th Century by claiming the current system is indeed archaic and shows better step up and start calculating what is fair. With restructuring of A and AA shows, I would hope show managers will earn more ability to move required prize money payouts to the divisions which are more heavily attended, rather than throw large amounts of prize money to the three people signed up for High Performance Hunters.

Don’t understand? Right now, the rules dictate where the money should be distributed, and those rules were set up years ago to attract competitors to jump higher for bigger money, and a REQUIRED PAYOUT was seen as the way forward to solve the issue of depleting divisions. Very few shows still fill the High Performance these days, yet those couple or three horses receive the bulk of the prize money within a AA horse show.

Some argue it will kill off the High Performance hunters all together, because surely the only reason people encourage horses to jump 4′ (1.2192m) is for the bloated prize money. It won’t, as long as we continue to have International Derbies, and as far as I can determine, those 4′ (1.2192m) High Performance classes are only relevant where an International Derby is being held during the same week. The logic of offering High Performance classes with no one willing to enter them is beyond me, and if it prevents the A show from being a legit AA show, why on earth wouldn’t you want a restructure? HOTY points….. because HOTY points are based on money won.

How about just prize money requirements for the Young Hunters? The Young Horse Show Series based out of Lexington, KY offers crazy generous $$$ for YEARLINGS to FIVE YEAR OLDS of EVERY discipline and we can’t offer prize money for the Young Hunter Division? When I say I don’t get it, I mean it. I. really. don’t. get. it. (The young hunters are standing right there with their hooves in the air, screaming, if you won’t give us a finals, at least give us some money!) They also still don’t have a model class. They also should have become the Pre-Greens, or Greens, or whatever you want to call them, but we missed the boat right from the port, despite how Young Hunters was originally envisioned. We ARE supporting moving the height for 5 year olds down three inches to 2’9″ (0.8832m), so chances of demanding prize money probably just flew out the window.

The current system really is set up to penalize riders choosing to jump a lower height like 3′ (.9375m) by not giving them prize money, and although it might be smarter, safer and welfare conscious, equestrian society chooses to scream ‘we are watering down the hunter divisions!’ and bemoan the loss of excessively tall jumps in the show ring. Honey, it is 2020. Find a new slogan.  And you can leave the mileage rule banner at home, too. because shouting about eliminating the mileage rule is easier to comprehend for people to think they can solve the future of horse showing, but once you read the rule book, you understand it is an unachievable goal. A relevant rating system is more likely the solution.

Again. Stuck.

Stuck in a world where tradition and common sense clash.

I worry how this is going to end up and one of those times I think about who the right people to make such a change in the industry should be. Based on history, the track record may not be all that great about who makes rating decisions, because we have ended up with an extremely fractured rating system within the United States, which very few people understand. Fixing it within a time frame and from the perspective of either Show Managers or Exhibitors? Ugh, not sure about that one.

I spent the last week once again pouring over the structures for show ratings, and I gotta tell you, we are so fucked. If you own a red pen and are really good at slashing through complete paragraphs of nonsense, please hit me up.


Please don’t Safe Sport me.

2017-9 has proven to be a rather horrific couple of years for equestrians in this country, splitting and dividing us worse than I can remember in my forty some years of participation. Yes, we are athletes, the kind of athletes with really bad drinking habits, smoking habits, and drug use, (not judging) so hearing the bulk of what was unfolding in Michigan with the gymnasts may have failed to appear on many of our computer screens for quite some time. Like, really a delayed reaction in our tiny bubble of ponies and horses….there are even a few people who have yet to watch the documentaries about the athletes. I understand. It was hard for me to watch, too.

I was going to write quite a bit about this topic, but you know what? It isn’t worth it right now. Did I walk out of the Safe Sport Meeting? Yes I did. Do I see an agency covering the ass of another agency rather than actual people? Yes. Is someone going to misinterpret my actions/beliefs/morals/ and thereby label me? Most assuredly. Do people label me anyway? well, yes.

Shit, what a horrible conversation. It seems like every equestrian has become an expert on the topic, and every equestrian needs to be an activist on the topic.

I personally think it is totally unfair for me to not stand behind a government created agency which protects minors, and I will do as I am told here, but don’t make me hate it.


Vet Conference

Another missed opportunity to receive education? I would love to know how I was so ignorant of the AAEP convention being held next door until three days before our Annual Meeting started, but dang, I feel like there was a huge missed opportunity to learn from. okok, move on. moooooving on. relevance – 0.


Colorado Horse Park

Rumors flew around the internet about the Colorado Horse Park in Parker, Co. and started right before I peaced out of Denver. Was it closing? Not closing? Preemptive assumptions may turn out to be nothing more than ‘we don’t really want boarders anymore’ (I get that),  but it brings up a good conversation. Land Preservation isn’t much of a topic us fancy show people take seriously enough, but should it be? The Fox Chasers certainly take it seriously.

Take a moment to write down your favorite show facilities and do some research. Are they ok financially? Are they owned by a foundation? The State? How are they operating? Are you taking their presence for granted? Most horse people love access to nice facilities, but yes, indeed, I think most facilities are taken for granted and the bigger mystery often is ‘who owns’ your favorite facility? The State or a Private entity? What is the difference? Will the google help me here?


Stirrup Cup

I never had a chance to address this poor little overlooked program. (It was not a topic at the annual meeting.)

The specs on Stirrup Cup Classes say competitors need to attain points at three different competitions, before earning a year end award. I am grumpy about this because most competitors don’t seem to have access to three B or C shows in their Zone, and if now the USEF is allowing those same B and C shows to qualify Junior Hunters for a National Championship with one tri-color, it would seem to me the correct number for a year end award would be 2? 1? Anyone out there know about the Stirrup Cup? Is each program within the USHJA an important link from not horse showing to horse showing?

And….do we give equal attention to both Stirrup Cup Championships and International Derby Championships?


Are you confused? Lost? Tired? Yeah, same. It is a stupidly long article, no matter how you look at it, and I touched on merely half of the subjects, even when I leaned on others to fill in a few gaps I either missed or couldn’t remember.

I considered walking away from all of this and let silence be the mic drop we all wish for to end the suffering you bear regarding my opinion on governance within the Federations. Just pay up, shut up, and try to keep up. Lord knows I have better things to do. I may still walk away, who knows, there is still a lot to weigh in on about exactly where I fit in, if at all.

These committee meetings take place all year and involve all of these same discussions, yet, we only hear about them at the annual meeting. We are not encouraged to read the minutes before we arrive, still lack knowledge on the process of governance, process of rule changing, and we will pass this on to the next generation. What a shame.


Riddle me this?

Do you need to take a moment to identify why you are a member and what kind of member you are?

1. For Prize Money

2. Points

3. Travel

4. Time

5. Quality/Amenities

6. Ability to sell a horse/product

7. Introducing new clients to sport

8. Young up and Coming Trainer

9. Social butterfly

10. Don’t know what else to do

11. Other.


More Challenges

Imagine looking around the room at the people you have placed there and wondering if they have a completely clean record with no skeletons in the closet? Equestrians have played on the luxury lot for decades. Equestrians have served on boards, entered governance, shaped our industry, and many equestrians have questionable personal lives. What if those same equestrians, who made poor decisions outside of the show ring are snatched up from right under our noses while serving on a board or committee and can no longer shape our future? Can I ask that question? Is it at all relevant? The sport moves on regardless, correct?  It is a hard question. The anonymity of people making decisions is almost preferred so we can be spared gorey realizations, yet anonymous and transparency don’t exactly rhyme..

If you are still reading, why? Really ask yourself why. Do you cling to the four letter word of HOPE?


We are and always will be equestrians at the end of the day…..

I have to go throw hay out to the horses. Happy Holidays everyone.

Why should heels go down?

I have noticed, over the years, riders are reminded to put their heels down by their coaches over and over again, and as the rider thinks about it in the moment the heel goes down, but shortly after, the rider thinks about something else, and there is no longer weight in the heel. So the coach says again “put your heels down.” Sometimes it is all they say, just “put your heels down”. A broken record of four words.

As riders become more experienced, they eventually find their own balance, which comes with a certain mindfulness and control of the heel, allowing them to appear more stable in the tack, and capable of doing more things.

Less experienced riders seem to struggle with exactly how much pressure to put on their heels, when to put their heels down, and when to use them to make their horses perform better.

I find it is easier for me to know HOW and WHEN to put my heel down, rather than simply jamming it into a locked, sometimes too painful, position. To me, heels down is actually having the ability to control your balance, not necessarily a severe angle to show off the bottom of your feet, but remain fluid enough so your horses respond favorably to your leg. Especially in the hunter ring.



At the walk, I actually don’t put pressure on my stirrup or heel. Instead, I “lift” my toes up in my boots first to try to touch the roof of those boots. It is a different energy. I am not straining my hamstrings, and I am still getting quite a bit of flexion in my ankle which “drops” my heel without jamming it.

Why? The horse will react to a rider pushing so hard to get the heel down. I don’t want the horse to react to that movement. They are sensitive enough to be like “hey? are we going now?” If I lift my toes upward first, the horse doesn’t feel negative energy, and I can give better controlled leg aides without confusing him. The length of my leg actually grows when I am not straining to push my heel down from the hip.


The posting trot is an up/down motion.

In posting trot I sink my heel as I come “down” to the bottom part of my post, so my heel drops naturally and without negative energy, and I try to keep it there for the “up” of the posting trot. Some people make the mistake of lifting the heel as they sink to the “down” part of the post, and then try to put weight in the heel as they come up out of the saddle for the “up” motion.

I prefer the timing of sinking the heel on the “down” part of the post and leaving it there when I post “up”. The energy, again, is different, and the sensitive horses will not be reactionary to my leg. If I remember to think about lifting my heel up in my boots at the trot as well, I have complete control of where my lower leg is placed on the horse, and can use it in a more effective and attractive manner.

Does practicing the Two-Point help? Yes absolutely, when performed correctly. Remember, the Two-point (to me) is the high part of the post or the “up”. Most people go further forward or lean over. I don’t. I can keep my heel underneath me and lift my butt out of the saddle to the high part of the post. I keep my leg in the same position, lifting the toes in the top of the boot.


The canter has a different timing.

I put my heel down AS the horse takes his lead leg forward. Many riders do the opposite, but their timing is forced, not natural. If the heel goes down AS the lead leg goes forward, you have ten times the control of how to use your lower leg without pissing the horse off. The legs grow longer as well as stronger, useful on riding different types of horses.

Later, when the horse jumps, your timing of your heel going down with the lead leg will allow you to land in your heel for a safer, smoother experience.

Cantering the horse and thinking about the timing of the heel going down also makes your muscles less tired because when done properly, the muscles have a tiny moment when they relax before following the motion of the lead leg again. The muscles flex, and when the muscles in your leg flex, guess what? They build strength on their own. Think about a squeezing one of those rubber balls in your hand to improve strength or reduce stress. You squeeze the ball and let go right? Otherwise, squeezing and holding the ball for an hour will actually hurt you. So you have to squeeze the ball then release it to allow the ball to come back to size. My legs follow the canter much the same way.

Here, a pony rider gives an example of cantering with the heel down. Over time and experience, the leg will not ‘grip’ too tightly which will make this rider more adept to hotter blooded animals.

You can tell from the ground which riders can follow with their legs first because when you watch the midsection of the rider, the hips are not stiff, but loose and following. Riders who are tiring themselves by jamming the heel down and holding the position are usually holding their bodies elsewhere in the same stiff way. I don’t think the horses like particularly stiff riders.

Indeed there are multiple moving parts on a rider and a horse, so talking about the heel down and nothing else may seem a bit unfair. The level and experience in a rider changes over time and experience, but I really try to think about the heel as I am riding, (no matter what kind of horse),and it gives me a moment to feel the energy in my own body as well as my steed. If you are willing to try something new, you might be surprised to where it takes your level of riding.




Everything I have practiced on the flat will come into play for the jumps. If I begin trotting a trot pole to a cross rail, I will step into my heel at the pole and hold it there over the jump so I LAND in my heel on the back side. If you struggle to do this on your own, try this imagery. It is a bit like trying to touch your toe to the horse’s shoulder as they take off over the jump. You can’t, but imagine if you could. That slight motion to try will actually keep your leg underneath of you when you jump. If your leg is underneath of you when you jump then you have now discovered the ability to land in your heel on the backside of the jump.

Not your toe, not your knee, not your bum, but actually landing in your heel.

Cantering fences is the same as trotting the fences, only I start to move my heel slightly forward three strides away from the fence. By that time I should have committed to a pace to get me to the jump, so I no longer need to tell the horse to go forward. If he is not a baby, (just learning how to jump), I should trust he is going to see us through to the other side.  However, if he jumps too high, too low, too perfect, or too awful, my leg will always catch me on the backside, regardless of antics or awkwardness.

Here this rider shows what it is like to ride with your heel down cantering fences.



If I am riding a baby baby, I will actually be sure my leg is further in front of me than normal until I know for sure he is not going to clear the jump like an orangutang. Allowing or not controlling the leg to slip back will actually scare a young horse and make them quick off the ground. a big no-no in the hunter world. I depend on this when trying new horses or minimally broke horses.

In the hunters, we prefer to have the horses look and appear smooth, jump slower than a jumper or eventer, and have the capability of never changing pace. Controlling the lower leg better will control the pace as you go around the ring.

You may see top professionals actually flip their lower leg up and back when jumping a larger fence and wonder why. These riders can really control parts of their bodies which defy gravity, but they do this to invite the horse to jump higher. For 90% of us out there, we don’t need be so extreme..  Sometimes, you will see pictures of me actually lifting my heels exactly over the top of the jump, for exactly the same reason. It may not look like I have no depth of heel, but I can actually FEEL when to squeeze the belly upward to create more arc in the bascule. It is so slight, but it is my way of creating an illusion that the horse is jumping better than he really is.



Do not be fooled when you see riders exaggerate the lower leg, or ‘swing’ their legs back, they might be geniuses at work trying to create magical unicorns for your viewing pleasure.

This is a judged sport, after all, and outside of equitation, it is the horse being judged….


Riding with stirrups too short or too long. Riding with stirrups too short will actually make it harder to concentrate on the heel going down with the right timing. I have found people who ride shorter are actually trying to fix the problem of “losing” their stirrups, but the knees will separate from the tack or turn “out” over a jump” and change the balance entirely of the rider. The stirrup should be long enough so the bottom hits your ankle bone which sticks out from your foot. If you cry out in pain when your ankle bone clonks it, you are probably at the right length. If the stirrup bar hits higher, you are riding too short.

Too long a stirrup will force the toe to keep contact with the stirrup, lifting the heel for balance. If you are struggling to keep your heel down on the flat, you really need to try and adjust to the ankle bone. Most riders with too long a stirrup have very weak or bad leg position over the jumps because they are more worried about losing equipment rather than controlling the leg.

This is an example of me riding with too long a stirrup, which I will have to adjust before I find my way back to the show ring. I am not losing my balance, but the leg is by far weaker in contact and smoothness of the ride. Granted a five month hiatus will do that to a person. As I become stronger, the stirrup length will become more appropriate.



Does it matter which kind of stirrup you ride with?

I mean it shouldn’t, but this is all about experience in the tack. I ride in a Sprenger stirrup because I prefer the heavier weight compared to the lighter composite material. I also like how they flex, and my knees say thank you to me every day. But stirrups shouldn’t affect your ability to control your heel. If they do, you have bigger issues. Ride in what you are most comfortable in, but ride with your heel in mind rather than the stirrup.

Good heels make for good balance. Good luck!


The Lab

While the equestrian community has been distracted with front page headlines, another dark problem has surfaced to test the tepid waters within the USEF.

The Lab.

I admit I was super excited to see the lawsuit from Dr. Cornelius Uboh to the USEF. He was requesting a jury trial and it appeared it was either a very good tactic to get attention, or there really was a case for a jury to consider, and jury trials are inherently more financially draining, so what a chance to severely impact the Federation. Dr Uboh used the press to further the mystery by announcing his intent to sue and it was pretty widely publicized.

Dr. Cornelius Uboh was hired by USEF in the midst of the Glefke/Farmer case, which gripped the country for months, and thrown into a debacle of monumental proportions. He came from Pennsylvania where he was the director for the Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory. In 2014, he was fired from PETRL for reasons unknown.

If I have to refresh your memory, in 2016, USEF attempted to capture who they thought was an alleged ‘cheater’ in the hunter world by finding a positive GABA result with some random horse competing in Kentucky under the training of Larry Glefke and ridden by Kelley Farmer. Murray Kessler issued a proud statement that went to everyone’s email inbox (who was at the time a member of the USEF), including Larry and Kelley. The country became split in half trying to guess the details of the situation,  watching as the couple vehemently denied the use of GABA and denied ever hearing about the charges. They lawyered up with a highly proficient team, and we all witnessed history as the case essentially ‘brought the house down’.

lab photo 3

Larry and Kelley were cleared of any wrongdoing, and the leaders of the USEF had to apologize to the members, and admit things didn’t exactly add up. The case was pretty sensational, right?


According to court documents, Dr. Uboh did not want the B Sample tested at the same lab the A sample was tested, but insisted on retaining a completely independent lab with International approvals and on par standards. Remember, he was hired following the actual urine and blood collection of the Glefke horse. However, as we all know, Glefke and Farmer insisted on having the B sample tested in the same lab, and someone told Uboh to sit down and shut it, and the greatest debacle of all time unfolded in front of everybody’s eyes in stunning fashion.

Well, of course, someone had to take the fall. Initially, my money was on Stephen Schumacher, who I felt was capable of spinning fabulous tales and leading people away from the truth, especially when I sat down with him for an hour during an annual convention in Kentucky. I wanted honest answers for members, but he managed to muddy the waters even further by redirecting the conversation away from GABA and the Glefke/Farmer case, and refusing to be recorded in any kind of interview. However, leadership decided to head down another path, and accuse Dr. Uboh (who had probably never heard of Larry Glefke or Kelley Farmer) of all sorts of horrible offenses during the handling of the B sample.

What we eventually witnessed instead was the complete destruction of the current USEF laboratory and the start of a new ‘relationship’ with University of Kentucky.

The Lexington Herald published this :

So, of course, I was disappointed to see the settlement. The whole case was bizarre to begin with, in my opinion, with motions to remand to federal court so Dr. Uboh could utilize a “citizenship tactic” (denied), constant denial of all allegations for the defense (really?) and even a point when it was looking like USEF was insinuating the former lab director was lying in the lawsuit, based on previous statements taken months earlier for the hearing (yikes).

lab photo 1

Little has been published about the outcome of Dr. Cornelius Uboh at USEF, and just try to get him on the phone, or track him down by email, to get a response. I tried, and ended up nowhere. I mean, I have questions. How do you go from requesting a jury trial to a settlement that quickly? It was like, maybe 6 months? Are you happy with your compensation during your time at USEF? Did they offer anything in the settlement?? i know, i know, none of my business..

The interim lab director Dr. Rui Yu took over for Dr. Uboh in February of last year, 2018. He had only started working in the lab as a scientist in October of 2017, so had only four months to get acclimated. Meanwhile,  negotiations were starting with University of Kentucky and ideas tossed around about how to solve the outsourcing of drug testing for the USEF. In fact, Tom O’Mara headed a task force to explore all of the options. University of Kentucky would eventually purchase the USEF lab and continue drug testing under Dr. Scott Stanley, who comes from a previous teaching position in California, at UC Davis. Meanwhile, no one gave the interim lab director much thought, especially the membership. Why would they? New protocols were set in place, people started paying more attention to drug testing, and improvements were being  made. Testers actually started the use of gloves in the collection of urine and blood. ( i know right? impressive)

So, why would Dr. Rui Yu suddenly send out this letter this week?


To Whom It May Concern,


This letter is to inform that the signatory, Dr. Rui Yu, would like to officially suspend and withdraw all the signatures that were signed during the period of February 1, 2018 to July 9, 2019 (before the lab was sold to University of Kentucky), which includes but not limited to any data reports, show reports, testing reports, positive packets, affidavits, etc. related to US Equestrian Federation USEF and all other outside organizations including FEI, AQHA, NRHA, WPRA, AERC, etc.

Most importantly, the purpose of the suspension and withdrawal is to protect and help everyone including USEF, other outside organizations, the signatory, and former USEF laboratory employees (now UK employees), also be fair to horsemen and competitors, as well as providing fair competitions and testing results. The reasons include potential violation of A2LA accreditation (ISO 17025) as well as other serious flaws. USEF refused to admit that their CEO (William Moroney) assigned and authorized Dr. Rui Yu (LC-MS Scientist) as the Interim Laboratory Director to perform majority of the lab director’s job duties and be responsible for all signatures, regardless what the confidence level was and right after the former Laboratory Director was fired on Feb 1, 2018. USEF’s action seriously compromised the whole laboratory accreditation and assumed that no one in the laboratory was in charge and performed decision-making and management for more than 16 months. USEF also questioned Dr. Rui Yu’s qualification and experience to perform the Interim Laboratory Director position during the negotiation of proper compensation (USEF paid zero), which seriously compromising the validity of any documents that Dr. Rui Yu signed during that period.

 All the administrative officers (from USEF and other outside organizations) must hold or revoke all related proceedings and cases due to this suspension and withdrawal. And the administrative officers are responsible to inform your members and competitors. The suspension and withdrawal will not be revoked by the signatory Dr. Rui Yu until the end of investigation on USEF by EEOC, HRC, or legal measures.

This notice of the suspension/withdrawal are effective from August 19, 2019, and will also be forwarded to other organizations and to Whom It May Concern.

 USEF broke promise to compensate Dr. Rui Yu for over the 16-month additional Interim Lab Director job, and further retaliated (suspension and elimination) Dr. Rui Yu like flipping hands. UK may also participate in the under-the-table deal with USEF and removed Dr. Rui Yu’s position and job application after the USEF laboratory was sold to UK. No honest person or company with dignity and respect would keep doing evil and wrong things over and over and over again. Therefore, be careful doing business with such persons or companies in the future.


Best regards,

Rui Yu, Ph.D.

Former LC-MS Scientist

Former Interim Laboratory Director (assigned and retaliated but not admitted or even paid by USEF although USEF CEO and General Counsel promised to do so)

Former USEF Equine Drug Testing and Research Laboratory— 


Is he mad? What does this even mean? Is this an incredible coincidence or just another disgruntled employee? I mean, to me, it sounds like a bad song being played on repeat, but it is disturbing on many levels. Additionally, his actions would threaten the validity of hundreds of positive drug tests over the last 16 months. Can that happen? Or, maybe there is a way around dissolving 16 months worth of work so a few hundred lawsuits could be avoided. I have no idea. But that email went to the FEI, NRHA, WPRA and the USOPC, so he is clearly trying to raise a red flag here.

And did they really not pay him?? Come. On. WTF.

Sure, maybe he is a little sore because he wasn’t brought on to the current UK lab, but retaliation like this means he is deeply disturbed about what happens in house at USEF. “No honest person or company would keep doing evil and wrong things over and over and over again”

Do you think he watched what happened with Dr.Cornelius Uboh, and thought “my God, that better not happen to me!” And then it did, and he was like AAAAAGH!

I think we have a lot to be worried about with our equestrian Federation, or maybe it is just me. Like, are we going to assume every time something goes wrong with a drug violation the lab director is going to take the fall? Guinness Book of World records for Lab Directors, ha.

I wish Dr. Scott Stanley the best of luck then, but I hope he is watching his back.

quick, quick, sigh…

You know when your favorite app updates and you are like oh no, I was just getting used to the old version, and it takes three months to get used to the changes and it updates again? Welcome to Safe Sport.

At least I feel that way about Safe Sport. I grumbled in the very beginning a few years ago because it was handled poorly by our equestrian federation, never explained properly, shoved down our throats like we were the problem, but eventually look what happened! We all grew used to the change, took the training, and it is in our lives whether we like it or not.

I actually became tired of hearing about it once I started to accept it, and over the years preferred to tune the dreary subject out of my otherwise occupied mind. I felt like I ‘adulted’ by taking the training without complaint, and patted myself on the back for my maturity. No offense to victims, but since no information about cases is ever privy to the regular people, do we have to go to every town hall and annual meeting to talk about it some more?

In the background noise, I thought I heard the center for Safe Sport make an alarming amount of mistakes. It appeared there were more investigations for people retired from sport, close to retirement, or even already dead. I occasionally checked the primary list of offenders, heard countless stories of irrelevant accusations involving adults having affairs with other adults, not minors, and wondered if investigators actually knew what they are doing. I winced hard at the suicide of John Coughlin and the complete shut down of his investigation, like now you won’t investigate a dead guy? Explain, please. Oh wait, two different organizations? Ugh, who can keep it straight and why should we have to? Or is it just one organization?

And what a colossal waste of time and money to go after someone like Claire Bronfman. When is the last time she put on a pair of boots? I mean riding boots. Hooker boots are different. She was so busy wrapped up in her weird provocative cult, I highly doubt she was intending to rent stalls at WEF and rent a Grand Prix horse for the season. Like what? She doesn’t even have results on a horse since 2005.


From time to time I would see serious grumblings from people in other sport disciplines and followed the erratic behavior of the USOC and the poor performance of other governing bodies to address sexual assault from coaches and thought, well, we know one thing for sure, US Equestrian wants to separate themselves from all the other governing bodies and prove they can demand better of their members. Murray Kessler has made his agenda abundantly clear.

What isn’t always clear is, who is drawing the lines in the sand? We don’t know which requirements come from USEF and which ones are handed down from the USOC or the SS.

This paragraph out of the new Safe Sport Policies sure hit a nerve and it is prefaced with “USEF recommends the following components” so….

Prohibited electronic communication Applicable Adults with authority over minor athletes should not maintain private social media connections with unrelated minor athletes and such Applicable Adults should not accept new personal page requests on social media platforms from amateur athletes who are minors, unless the Applicable Adult has a fan page, or the contact is deemed as celebrity contact vs. regular contact. Existing social media connections on personal pages with minor athletes should be discontinued.

Once I finally had a chance to read through the four hundred paragraphs of the new SS standards, I thought well, this is very Un-American. Thoughts of a former regime came to mind pretty quick, however.

Did anyone ask junior members or minors how they felt about the new guidelines coaches are supposed to follow? If a panel of juniors said yes, this was our idea, I would respect them whole-heartedly and say ok, good job kids, if this is what you want, I delete you.

Does anyone else find it super alarming we are supposed to stifle lines of communication? Like right now?

Sure, let’s communicate less from now on, even though we just made a broad announcement for ALL victims to come forward with their #metoo grievances…. I can’t even.

Part of me is probably relieved. Now the pressure to be a mandatory reporter is completely off my shoulders, because now I am going to be encouraged to talk less to any minors who might be in real trouble. Good, I hated that burden….Give it to someone else. My hands have been washed, thank you very much. I mean really. The word ‘shortsighted’ comes to mind. Again.

Now I would like to see gender segregated restrooms, so minors can have no chance of running into the loo with me, can I make a rule change proposal for that? Juniors can have their own restroom, I don’t even care if all the adult restrooms are co-ed, since I can pee in front of anyone now.

Oh, and thanks for giving me a week to digest how my future behavior needs to follow this shitty protocol. If you had told me to start practicing this new mindset for the summer and initiate said practice in the fall I would have most likely been ok, but now I am just annoyed. You all didn’t even tell me if this was a recommendation coming from agencies above you or if it is you. I feel like we should be expecting a clarification email any day now.

Our equestrian Federation wants to have their cake and eat it too, but I am not on board with their latest sly little way to pull the rug out from horse trainers with their ‘recommended components’. Have they even thought about coaches at boarding schools?

I never used to believe there are more bad people than good, but maybe I am really just  naive. Maybe the horse world is too unbalanced with thieves, cheaters, drug offenders and molesters. Personally, I would look to a governing body president to clear up that assumption, but maybe our leader is also tuning out the complaining of the good people with an otherwise occupied mind?

Time Out

So far 2019 has been a great year! My calendar was full when it should have been weak, even in the coldest months, and planning ahead, I barely had a single day without an obligation, which excited me. Horses to ride, clinics to teach, planes to catch, road trips to take, I love being busy, I always thought it was better to be busy than be dead, right?… However, my life changed with a literal heartbeat one Sunday morning during a horse show, and all of a sudden the creeper in a black hoodie holding a scythe was hovering above me like ‘How you doin’??’

Crap. I hate that guy.

Riding a horse in a competition ring, I collapsed with no warning, desperately clutching my chest and mumbling about how weird I felt. I still had three fences left, but couldn’t get to them.

My memory of the episode has evaporated entirely, including several of the following days, probably for the best. My actual location is what saved my life. Had I been anywhere else, I would not be here today. I was competing, so EMT’s were right there on top of me, knowing exactly what to do while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. There was a defibrillator on the grounds, a grounds which truly is a second home to me. The group of friends and EMT’s stripped me of my riding clothes (boots have zippers) and tossed them in my car before the ambulance whisked me away and next thing everyone knows I am on the operating table having open heart surgery  – an aortic dissection caused by an aneurysm. Unusual for a 47 year old woman, but not unusual for someone with chronic hypertension.

I don’t know why I have hypertension, I feel like I am the least stressed person around, I don’t consume a lot of salt, (my diet is not the root of the matter,) nor do I have any of the myriad of other reasons which may cause high blood pressure, but I have it. No one has been able to explain it, my family history shows nothing remarkable, I don’t ever feel bad, so I can’t say I was dedicated to taking my medicine religiously, some days I would remember, other days I wouldn’t, because like any farm girl,  I always have a lot on my plate. I am a busy bee.

Or…. that was then…. as they say.

The first few days after the initial surgery were most painful for my family. I had lost so much oxygen, nothing was really working right. I had no memory, I talked funny, every time I opened my eyes I had to be told why I was in the hospital….four days of repetition and fear I wouldn’t return to normal. Lots of fear. The doctors tried to reassure my husband and mother that time was all I needed, but there is no way you could have believed them if you saw me. My husband admitted later just how scary it was….

From his perspective, he wasn’t prepared for what he walked into. There was an abnormal amount of chaos around me at the hospital, and the little information he had received didn’t match the visual of seeing my body change color to a sickly blue. There was too much urgency as they wheeled me off to the OR, and the words ‘mortality rate’ echoed in his head. It doesn’t matter if it was 10% or 60%, those words are NOT two you want to hear together in a sentence, especially in a hospital right before you see your wife being wheeled away for emergency surgery. My parents were there, too, my Dad remembers talking to the ambulance driver and asking him if I was awake on the way down and speaking at all, which the driver confirmed, but said it was an incoherent mess of words loosely strung together, and they had kept me breathing, so could he get back to work now, please? and thank you.

Around 5 hours later, I had made it through. Unfortunately, as I woke up, it was clear I was still fighting. I didn’t even know what I was fighting, because my brain wasn’t properly connected, but Tom had to be there to watch me fight the tubes in my mouth providing desperately needed oxygen, the mask over my nose which the nurses had requested because I was fighting what was in my mouth, and the thousands of efforts I made to sit up and get out of bed. What was I even doing? I was apparently thirsty, so I only knew to ask for water, which I couldn’t have yet, so over and over and over again, he had to tell me to wait, calm down, I could have water later, and please stop trying to sit up. It was vital I only could receive swabs of moisture around my mouth, but I didn’t understand. My mouth was so dry. The nurses would change the subject, frequently asking if I remembered his name, but my reaction time to form a single syllable was insanely long, and each ticking second which went by caused him even more anxiety. Would my brain ever connect to my mouth again? It was clear I recognized people, which was a great sign, but beyond that, speech was really challenging. I was so slow to say his name.

This fight went on for three excruciatingly long days. A raw, unconscious effort around the clock to be somewhere else, and I had no idea I was doing it. Maybe the nurses are trained and used to this sort of thing, but my family isn’t, so the struggle to do the right thing became very real. You have to adapt and trust strangers very quickly, not a trait which comes naturally to my husband, so he had to work at it, work on understanding what the strangers were telling him, and trust their words when they said I will be ok. I didn’t look ok. I mean, I really, really looked far from ok.

Thursday my brain finally woke up. I started retaining information. There were flowers in my room. There was a photograph of me with my husband, which now I realize was being used to trigger my memory. I needed help eating and remember ice chips and apple sauce. I stopped fighting. I stopped trying to sit up and get out of bed. The impact of the surgery was starting to hit me. I had to learn how to breathe again.  I thought I had to learn how to talk again. I sounded like a gangster, and my speech was slow and erratic. I could think, but not connect to my vocal cords immediately, internally freaking out when my voice took a different direction than what I was used to, worrying it might be a permanent change. I had no idea how much worse it was just the day before, because no one told me about the first four days I had missed. I didn’t ask, because I was just thankful to be alive, now that my brain was acting more like itself, so  internally I prepared myself to make adjustments, voice change or not. I kind of comprehended what happened to me, but my limited background in medical terms about the heart wasn’t providing too many answers, so I sat, waited, and stared at the walls. Relief washed over my entire family that Thursday.

couple pic

The next three days were spent trying to feed myself, drink water, manage sleep (once I was conscious I wanted no part of the moving bed – like a water bed to prevent clots), and recover. I picked up my phone, saw hundreds of messages, and put it down again. Reading was too overwhelming for me. I learned that my horses were scattered around and being taken care of by really, really amazing friends. My mother was keeping everyone updated through Facebook so I could concentrate on healing. I let her, and as the first horror past, she became creative and more upbeat with those updates. People depended on her for any kind of information, and it surprised me how much better our system worked than silence. People still talk about her updates, it is amazing.  Meanwhile, I struggled to get more comfortable. There was a huge incision down the center of my chest and holes where the tubes had been. I stared at it, but it freaked me out, so covered it back up with the  hospital gown. I did try to stay positive, but I was wishing for less pain. I started walking again, my jelly legs struggling and burning, how had they disintegrated so fast? Does muscle just evaporate? I tried to imagine a normal day of work, feeding, riding six or sixteen, cleaning stalls, filling water troughs, dragging the ring, mowing, but here I was pushing a walker down a hospital hallway, and wobbling. It hadn’t even been a week yet. Damn.

Once, even in the first week, I convinced the nurses to let my husband wheel me outside to breathe some fresh air. I lasted less than 10 minutes in the chilly temps, but it helped to feel less like a trapped rat. I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We had a plan. Physical Therapy would start after the weekend, and I would gain my strength back. I had already been in the exercise room, and couldn’t wait to get started. By Sunday, the pain was starting to fade a bit. Positivity, positivity, positivity.

And then I woke up Monday morning.

I don’t know anymore what kind of pain tolerance I have. I used to think it was quite high. Two years ago I suffered a compound fracture and my bones blew through my skin, boots, and chaps, and I didn’t even cry. I remember squeezing a hand pretty tight to get on a stretcher though. Right before that I underwent a hysterectomy and hardly took any pain medication. The following year I shattered all the bones in my foot and continued riding and walking for 24 hours before bothering to get an X-ray. I ended up in a cast for 6 weeks. Every bone was broken. I was simply annoyed. Other than those instances, hospital visits had been rare for me.

The pain that Monday morning was nothing I was prepared for. Not a single medication touched it. I couldn’t move, and it was all I could do to attempt to breathe in order to stay alive. I was terrified. Something was really wrong. Not only that I was swelling all over with fluid, and my veins had vanished. My arms were already black and blue from the week, and after several failed attempts to get a new line in, I was forced to call in a favor. I knew one person who could help me so I scrambled for my phone, praying she was working at the hospital that day. I couldn’t believe I had a connection at a hospital, but I did. I took advantage of it. Miraculously, she was there.

Despite not doing a very good job holding back the tears when I heard her voice,  I somehow explained what I needed and she instantly had an answer, and told me not to worry. The nurses on my floor were grateful, and stood back. Thirty minutes later my doorway was darkened by a very imposing but confident paramedic with a machine in tow. Relief washed over every part of me. He hooked up an ultrasound to my arm, scanned for all of 30 seconds and got a line in, explaining and chattering all the time. My vein was tapped. My swollen arms conquered.


I was sent for a cat scan, then sent back to my room to wait with my husband.

My heart surgeon at that hospital came to talk to us. He wanted to refer me to another hospital to be fixed. I could feel both eyebrows lift toward the ceiling and stay there. There was fluid rapidly collecting in my lungs, and another questionable area was presenting itself, which may indicate a leak from the initial surgery. Like a blood leak. None of which was music to our ears, so he promptly called in a favor to a colleague at University of Maryland, and we started the process of being transferred.

Apparently, being transferred from one hospital to another is one of the most complicated procedures known to man, and suddenly no one knew anything. We waited nearly 18 hours with nurses or coordinators telling us a ride would be there within the hour. My husband closed me in my room around 10 pm so I could try and attempt some sort of semblance of sleep. I managed like 3 hours. At 5:30 in the morning, the paramedics arrived to transfer me. To this day, I have no idea why it took 18 hours to go 20 minutes down the road.

Once transferred, the new staff was eager to get started with new tests. The lack of sleep, lack of information, and pain was really taking its toll on me and I was starting to unravel. My husband had to remind me rather sharply I was only here because the original surgeon had pulled a tremendous favor, and I had to respect the people around me trying to help, and I took a shallow breath and calmed down. A lot of what was happening was behind the scenes, with surgeons analyzing tests and results from labs, not one on one conversation, so I was trusting ghosts, instead of faces. I really had to dig deep for faith. Wednesday I was finally sent down to remove the fluid around my left lung… This is a process you are awake for, and it is truly terrifying, and dangerous. You can risk collapsing a lung. They make you sign special paperwork, and ask if are really sure you want to go through with the procedure. Twice.

I was escorted into a small room, sat on a bench, my back was exposed to the doctors behind me and scanned with an ultrasound. They drew an X under a rib. My arms were folded up in front of me on a table. They told me to hold my breath as they pushed a needle through my ribs to get to the fluid. I felt the needle, and wanted to pass out. Then, with a bag, they started the extraction. Over 650 ml of fluid came pouring out of my left lung, and they asked if I wanted to see it. Uh no? Just hearing it splash on the table was making me dizzy. Then it was over. I can’t say I felt an immediate improvement because I was feeling the sting of a large needle in my back, and was more or less stunned.  It wouldn’t be until the next morning I woke up and went omg! The procedure worked! I felt fantastic for the first time in days! My spirits were lifting! I could breathe again!

The morning rounds started, doctors appeared to relay to me that my right lung also had fluid in it, so maybe I should return to the same unit to address it. I wasn’t excited. However, I had to go down there. This time, it was a different set of specialists, and they seemed less enthusiastic about the procedure. There was remarkably less fluid showing up on the ultrasound, so they gave me a chance to really ask a lot of questions. Would the fluid go away on its own? Yes, it was not nearly as much as on the left side and had a pretty good chance of reabsorbing into the body. Would they bother in a normal situation to scrape a small amount of fluid and risk a lung collapse if it wasn’t vital to survival? no. They would not. So I thought about it, eventually deciding to pass. They sent me back to my room, and I spent the afternoon walking the halls, hoping I had made the right decision. It was a weird negotiation to have, and what kind of medical knowledge do I actually have? none…


The Unicorn became a theme for me.

The nurses started making suggestions about going home. I started feeling hopeful. I could almost feel my bed at home, I could almost see my cats. To pass the time, I colored Unicorns in a book someone had given me. I had had a few visitors during the week, each offering a few items to keep me busy, which was proving to be quite helpful.

Friday morning I looked up from my coloring book to see a team of doctors enter my room and was introduced to an actual surgeon…. well, this was odd. I listened as he explained what all of the other doctors in the cardiac unit were worried about. Oh no. I watched numbly as he drew a terrible picture on the whiteboard and illustrated where the leak was located. What was he even attempting to draw? Was that a heart? My heart? There were channels, and weird spikey things coming out of the center. He made a little oval shape and said something like ‘pool of blood’. I heard open heart surgery again. Time literally slowed to a crawl. I heard valve, I heard cow valve, then metal valve, then pig valve. Omg, are they letting me choose what kind of valve I want inside of me? Think clearly, make a rational decision. I was not offended by animal parts inside of me, so confidently elected for a cow or pig valve. Why did I seem so confident about picking a VALVE? By their explanations, a metal valve was very dangerous and complicated for a person like me. I don’t need any more complications. Was this real life? I guess it is a new real life. I sighed. He asked if I had questions? What was I supposed to ask? I shook my head. He said ok, I’ll see you downstairs tomorrow morning and we will do this. He clapped his hands together and left the room. We stared after him and his team.  I looked at my husband. Pig valve, right? Good choice?

For some reason I thought the leak spotted at the previous hospital had turned out to be a non-issue, but I was wrong, it was just an issue which needed addressing after the other issues…. man, this was some luck.

The day was filled with people coming to ‘prep’ me for the next day. My husband looked exhausted, but dutifully said everything was going to be ok. We had to get it done and not carry any issues with us out the door. He promised to be there before I went in for surgery, although I thought that was a bit silly. We had no idea if it was going to be a three hour or eight hour surgery, and what could anyone do but wave as I was wheeled away in the bed? The anesthesiologists peppered with me with questions and explanations. I was least excited about this part because I knew I was going to wake up feeling completely frozen based on past experiences. Like thinking I was in Siberia for some reason. Everyone reacts differently, I guess.

As per every previous day, a nurse pulled my blood at 4:30 am. I hadn’t had one person miss a vein all week, the bruises were starting to fade, and I marveled at their accuracy and confidence. It was weird. Now, there were additional IV’s attached to my neck as well as semi-permanent ones in each arm. Labs were required to be pulled separate from the IV’s, so I was still stuck each and every morning, regardless, to make sure my blood levels were correct. Funny the things you get used to.

At 7:30 I was retrieved. I started a long, unnerving journey to the Operating Room, my files in a binder resting on my leg. We stopped in a hallway. There were no more pictures of horses on the walls. The giant wash sinks were very real. A cap for my hair was placed on my head. There was a totally different atmosphere outside the OR. The intensity of perfection and sterilization crackled around me. The techs asked me why I was there. I answered, considered sarcasm or a joke, but no joke came out. I was once again told about the procedure and eventually wheeled into the sterile room. The lights on the ceiling were very real. I was asked to slide myself to the operating table. I obeyed. I started really looking at faces, or parts of faces. I could feel my heart pounding. People never stopped talking, reading my file, going over every detail. Then, I was gone.

Sure enough I was shaking. An uncontrollable shivering gripped me from my head to my toes. It didn’t stop, even after more blankets were tossed on me. There was something in my mouth. I wanted it out. I couldn’t open my eyes. My tongue tried to remove the breathing tube. I shook and shook and shook some more. “Dulany, you did great! You are in the ICU, ok?” I didn’t want to shake. I was worried I was going to choke. I could hear voices asking if I was uncomfortable. I could hear them discussing taking my breathing tube out. Please, please. Get it out, I could only say to myself. I continued shaking. More chatter. Finally the nurses started working on the obstruction in my mouth and I started to calm down. What is it with me and tubes in my mouth? The shaking started to slow down and I could open my eyes. ICU. Another unit in the hospital.

I never received a new animal valve. Mine ended up being in perfectly good working order, (so the pig parts waited on ice for someone else) and the doctors were able to clean up the leak easily enough, so the surgery was just a few hours long. This was good news.

The only thing I couldn’t get comfortable with was the fact that there were four drainage tubes stitched into my chest and they ached. If they hadn’t hurt so much I think I would have bounced right on out of ICU but having tubes sewn into your boobs is not cool. I didn’t want to move. My nurse was wildly patient with me. Not moving is apparently not an option. I said I would move next week. She said well you are going to get out of bed tomorrow, sista, and walk across the room, and in the meantime we have to roll you around every few hours so you don’t get bedsores.  Then I am going to take the pee bag out and guess what? You will have to actually use a bathroom. I stared at her. She ignored me and adjusted pillows, propping me up so I would drain some more fluid out. I didn’t sleep the first night, but by the second night exhaustion set in. The nurse peeked in, but didn’t disturb me. I was learning how to sleep with tubes in me. I gave up on the pain medicine doing anything. The following morning, I had to learn how to walk again. I figured out how to roll off the bed, with some help, but my legs were so weak, they could barely hold me up. I shuffled. There was zero modesty left in me at this point after days of poking, studying, stabbing, and whatever else had to be done, so learning how to pee again was done with an audience, and took time. Funny the things you have to concentrate on. I had a roommate briefly who seemed to be out of the twilight zone. She screamed and moaned but could never identify where she had pain. She refused to talk, only scream, and flat out refused to cooperate, not even saying her name for the cute x-ray technician (he could get anyone to talk). In a way this was good for me, because it made me try to be a better patient. I wasn’t sorry to see her change rooms, but you never heard one complaint out of me regarding the screaming. I focused on forcing my crippled body to move. And pee.

Finally I moved to the ‘step down unit’. Normally, I think it is about three days here and they want you out. I was ready. The first night in the new unit was excruciating because my body was on fire. I thought for sure the same thing was happening after the first surgery, and my body was filling up with fluid, but I had tubes continually draining, so actually I just hurt. I tried sitting up, I tried adjusting pillows, I tried the chair, I tried leaning back, nothing eased the pain. My ribs felt broken, my back, omg my back was giving up. My husband called my mom who called in a friend to sit with me so he could get some rest. He was just so damn tired. I was asking for muscle relaxers, so they tried some Robaxin. I managed an inside joke to myself. With everything else, I was now on Lasix and Robaxin.

I didn’t want anyone to see me like this, but I was grateful for the company that night. She said later I didn’t look good. She helped me back into the bed and we crossed our fingers it would pass by morning. I had learned to count, so I stared at the railings of the bed and counted to 100. I counted to 200. Breathe. Count. Repeat. She left.


my view for several days


By morning, I was indeed better. Whatever was going on had vanished, and I was steadily improving. The days were starting to blend together, for sure, but the clarity in my head was returning. Every day I felt ready for the next step. The first set of tubes were removed and this deleted a tremendous amount of agony. I started to bathe myself, and tried combing my hair. Going three weeks without washing your hair is gross. I tried once bending over under the faucet to sort of wash it with some baby shampoo which was offered to me, but this was sort of a pathetic attempt to solve a big problem. I needed my home shower.

My appetite improved steadily, and with no restrictions, I was more or less free to eat whatever I wanted. The menu choices were sparse, however, and not always palatable, so I started asking for more food from home. Healthy snacks started to arrive during the week. Things were really looking up. T-shirts and leggings also showed up from home. I tossed the gown aside for good.


There was only one thing. My body refused to show reaction to the blood pressure medication. Instead, it skyrocketed.

So each morning the nurses and doctors were telling me I was ready to go home, and by the afternoon, they were like uh-oh, this is not good, as they watched my numbers bounce to unacceptable highs.

The professionals experimented. I waited. I wished they would stop suggesting I could go home soon. They asked me if I had white coat syndrome….. I thought of five different sarcastic answers for that question, but settled with ‘no, I do not’.

The PT guys escorted me around the halls, but I hadn’t breathed real life oxygen in two and a half weeks, so I started making suggestions about going outside. They surprised me by getting permission! I wasn’t exactly prepared, had no shoes, but when they came in my room and said guess what? I jumped at the opportunity, pattered downstairs in socks and blew through the doors and out onto the street. I didn’t even care that I was walking around the dirty streets of Baltimore in socks, wired to the gills with a heart monitor, with some stranger talking about horses and Alpacas, I was outside! It was a small thing, but it made all the difference in the world. I could feel the sun on my skin. My legs might have been shaky, but they were moving! My husband brought my shoes the next day.


I battled with frustration. I am not ashamed. The fight I have inside me is the same fight I used to stay alive. Every once in a while that fight showed up in public as frustration. Very few people understood, so seeing me vent for five minutes triggered a negative effect. The reaction would be to stifle my frustration all together instead of accepting it. Now I know when I see this in other people I am going to be better about allowing the frustration to come out of them. I was really hard on myself at times, while I was stuck in that tiny 10×10 room, constantly punishing any desire I had to be somewhere else, and the mental challenge to stay positive was EXHAUSTING. I had to completely rewire my brain, and was only about 75-80% successful during the final days inside that building.

My blood pressure was taken every hour, sometimes it was promising, then for no reason, and at no consistent time, it would spike again, and the doctors would say no, you can’t go home until it lowers. I became a bit of an anomaly on the floor, strolling around, no longer with an escort, sitting for an hour or so in the atrium just for something different, exploring and exercising on my own by now. Nurses would look at me funny if they hadn’t seen me before, and ask if I was a patient, and more than one said I looked like I was ready to go for a jog. Yup, that’s me, passing the time watching National Geographic and looking for my next meal, in leggings and sneakers, taking up precious space in a hospital. Ready for a jog.


Fact: Nurses don’t play cards.


Eventually, after over three weeks total of hospital time, they decided to let me go. I couldn’t believe it.

I stared out the window on the way home, and marveled at what I had missed. Spring had actually arrived, and the trees were starting to show themselves. I was a little uncomfortable over every bump in the road, but the closer I got to home, the better my mood improved. Tom got me out of the car, and in the house, and my cats actually greeted me…. You have no idea how much I worried that they wouldn’t recognize me. Instead, they curled their bodies around my legs and looked up and said hi! Even Squid, the little jerk of a feline, let me pet his head. Morkie stuck by my side like glue.

I showered for 30 minutes. Three weeks of hospital ickiness washed down the drain. That was about all I could handle the first day, so I climbed carefully into bed with the cats and marveled at being home. Not a lot of people thought I would ever make it back here, so I reveled in the moment of simply being alive.

The first week home was fairly simple, sleep a lot, walk three times a day up and down the driveway, take medication, check blood pressure, sit outside in the sun, eat, nap, read, write, and watch movies. My sternum ached, and I was worried about taking pain relievers to mask it, so I avoided them. Better to be in a little pain, rather than thinking you can conquer the world in one day. I did a little reflecting on what happened, but not much. I have no intention of changing my entire life. I think what happened was a medical problem, not a lifestyle problem. Of course, I won’t truly know this until I get further down the healing path, but if the doctors felt they did a good job with me and said I could ride again, then I will ride again. I am not that old, and my quality of life is actually quite good.


Morkie enjoying the sun with me


I marvel at what the doctors were able to accomplish to keep me here. This may sound horrifically morbid, but let’s face it. There are a lot of people who are depressed, some depressed to the point they want to destroy or eliminate themselves all together. One of the first thoughts I had was wow, these guys worked so hard to fix an internal problem, I better respect that work they did! Not that I would ever consider myself an exceptionally depressed person, but when you go through something like this, you want to work harder to be a better person, and not take that away permanently.

I look at food differently, even though I don’t have any dietary restrictions. But I really look at it. Do I want that in my body? What is it going to do for me? Help or hurt me? I was lazy about food before, but not a really terrible eater, just ate a lot of weird snacks. Now, I want real food, I even want to cook again, which probably means a lot of packing my own lunches for horse shows. Who knows, maybe I’ll start selling salad bowls out of my trailer, lol. I’m kidding. Sort of. I can still eat french fries, but I can’t imagine I will eat as many as I used to.


Quinoa power bowl, who am I?


I was slow to see people during the first part of recovery, because it can be exhausting to even talk, but hearing from friends is great, and it is astonishing to me how many people mobilized around me to lend a hand. People fought through fear, tears, and more just to hold my hand, rearrange my horses, move my car, belongings, and whatever else had to be done to make it easier for my family. I have no idea how to do anything else but try to pay it forward. I would imagine that part of me will be very different in the future. The stack of cards alone is astonishing!


good reading from Dad


Further into recovery, hope grows. The body really can heal, and when the body feels good, the mind feels good. My instructions were quite simple. Walk as much as you want, but don’t lift anything until the sternum heals. And when you are in the car, sit in the back seat so the airbag doesn’t blow through your chest if there is an accident. Roger. Got it. The hospital sent a Physical Therapist, who literally laughed out loud when I answered the door for him. Apparently, not many patients answer the door the first week home, but ok. He was about to turn tail and leave, but I asked him to stay in case I had questions, and he went over a few details, took a few notes, but admitted I was half the age of his normal patients. He didn’t think I needed help to get up and down the stairs, bade me farewell, and told me I would be fine, just keep moving. He wouldn’t answer me about when I could ride. Not his jurisdiction.

I can be a passenger! I can walk wherever I want! I do take full advantage of being mobile now, especially, ironically, since it is spring, and nothing says new beginning or starting over like spring. I sit still just long enough to try and finish my book I have been working on, and in between writing sessions, I move. A lot. Missing adventures is not going to be part of my new routine.

Every day I am astonished at what my body can do. Before I start, I remind myself I had to use a walker in the hospital. The first day home when I could only manage 5 minutes in my driveway because it had a slight incline. But each day the minutes increased, the distance increased, and my legs grew stronger. This week I walked to Kenilworth Mall, a mile from my house and shopped for food, then walked back. Two miles with a small hill! I count down the days until I return for my check up so I can brag about what I have accomplished…. just kidding, but really.

Advice? I don’t think I should be giving advice, but I don’t want someone else to go through an Aortic Dissection, either. Take care of your freaking body, I guess. Be smart about what you put in it. Chew your food, instead of inhaling it. Equestrians are not stellar examples of good health, and even though what happened to me might have happened even if my body was living on purified water and organic foods, we could all do better. I feel like I’ve said this kind of stuff before though, with pleas to get mammograms, regular health checks, and treat your bodies like we treat our horses, but horse people come up with 101 excuses why they can’t be bothered. Well good luck to you. Those close to me have certainly made various doctor appointments, I assure you, because what they witnessed happen to me was not glamorous, and didn’t make them want to be part of my club……

Every life changing incident happens for a reason, (right?) and if God has other plans for me, then bring them, I am more than ready.

Disclaimer. I don’t know if I need a disclaimer but whatever, here it is.

This was my personal view of my experience, and it took me some time to decide how to share it.  Each day I learn something new about what people have done for me these past six weeks and I am grateful. I thank you. I may never stop learning how you helped me, thought about me, prayed for me, reached out to my family, sent me a care package, or did something small for me without my knowledge. Whatever it was, it worked, and I am indebted to the community for the rest of my life. Again, thank you. The prayers seriously worked this time. I won’t forget any of it. xx.



Squid watching the grass grow with me


Bad Canter, in the show hunter, helpful hints.

When a young horse has a bad canter…..

I hear this term a lot. I use the term ‘bad canter’ a lot. Breaking down the logistics of a bad canter versus a great canter can have different meanings to different people.

When I say a horse has a bad canter and am looking at horses to buy for American hunter riders, I have to consider what an American rider can do with a bad canter. Not much. With the current gap in education we live with (and created), a bad canter is really just an undeveloped canter in a young horse and the balance is ‘on the head’, not the hocks. But a lot of people here want to ‘fix’ the bad canter by slapping on draw reins, a strong bit, even tranquilizer, and force the canter to something more comfortable for the rider. This leads to other issues down the road, creating a horse who will always need a severe bit, too much compression to the spine without the muscle to support it, and an association of pain with work, a huge pet peeve with me.

Keep in mind I am not simply describing the MOVEMENT of a horse in the canter. Good movers can also have bad canters, but many average moving horses have what I consider a weak canter. If you are lucky enough to have a horse with a good canter and it is a hack winner…yay! You don’t need this article. To me, it is a bit trivial to try to fool with trying to make an average mover into a 10 mover, and it is not the point of this piece, but rather to address what is in the caboose of a young horse. Those movement techniques can be discussed later.

Can a bad canter become a good canter?

Of course, with time. People seem to loathe the use of time in development, but it does actually work. If you handed me ballet slippers and a tutu, and demanded four ballet positions perfected in in ten minutes, I would ask you to share whatever drug you were taking and flail my way across the dance floor looking like a penguin rolling off a glacier and smashing into ten other penguins who were gawking at him. You give me ten weeks and it would be a different story. I would receive an invitation from the school for the arts I would be so good…. but probably for just those four positions.

I think horses are the same way. Their bodies can always improve with correct development, and we can give them cues and exercises to build the muscle for good gaits.

What does a bad canter feel like?

It feels horrible if you are not ready for it. The stride feels 25 feet long, there is no steering, going around turns is a battle with gravity as the horse leans in and braces itself to remain upright, and when you ask to shorten the stride, they trot, there is very little control. Riding in a small arena is suddenly a daunting experience. Your body wants to brace against the lack of control and suddenly your back hurts, arms hurt, and legs are like wtf is happening here? You both pull up winded.

Then you pull the tack off and realize there is no topline or back muscle under the saddle. You find yourself wanting to turn your horse over to a field hunter.

Riders tend to think the horse must be being naughty and willingly out of control in the canter, so in come ‘the hardware and tools’ to fix the problem.

The fighting begins.

Other bad canters feel ‘racky’, and it is hard to tell if the horse is trotting behind and cantering up front. They may do everything else just perfectly right, but the canter is not fully engaged. As a horseman, you have to make a decision as to what you feel can be improved upon and what the horse can relearn to make a full 3 beat canter. Maybe they can do the job without a normal canter, so it isn’t an issue, like this one in this video was a saint, a school teacher of sorts for a kid, but if I were to show it to a professional rider, they might balk at the gait, specifically the way it canters the first line.

How do you work with a bad canter?

My entire life is spent riding horses of all ages, sizes, shapes, breeds, etc. Some have better conformation than others. When you feel unbalance, the first thing to decide is exactly where that imbalance is coming from. Usually between the mouth and the hind end, you can spot a weakness. If my job is a 20 minute fix, I have to alter my methods to please the customer, but if my horse is a 6 month project, I can work more magic.

Dummy down the hardware. Snaffles only. I was fortunate enough to spend a good chunk of my educational years (early 90’s) in stables across Europe with an endless supply of three, four, and five year olds to break and start. There were tack rooms full of bridles of all sizes. and ONE selection of bit. The loose ring snaffle. No tricks, no gimmicks, no draw reins, and if you couldn’t make that work, you didn’t get to ride. You may have been offered a running martingale if you needed something to hang onto as they bucked and flung themselves across the ring or leapt six feet in the air over a pole on the ground.

I still use a loose ring snaffle, but my go to bit is a plain D-ring snaffle, and for funny shaped mouths I may have an egg butt to offer. Why can’t you use more? Well, you can, but the problem with using more is that it will never become less down the road. What works in my training for young horses is what makes them less resistant for an amateur rider in the future. Most of what I teach a horse is through the leg, not the mouth anyway, so the dependency for severe hardware disappears quickly. If I am preparing for a weaker rider, and that rider really does need more hardware the horse will end up with better obedience for that rider. I do own a pair of draw reins, but I don’t use them to correct a balance issue, because they make a horse fake in the mouth, or heavier in your hands when used too much. A horse has to be really strong or unruly before I pull them out, and more often it is a cold, windy day in February and I am about to venture on a highly anticipated trail ride with lions, tigers, and bears lurking around every which corner. Just kidding, sort of. We don’t have tigers.

Do the transitions.

No one ever believes me when I say this, (not that I care), but it is the number one most effective training technique for your horses, done correctly. There are days I never even get to the canter during a ride, and that is ok! Walking provides an astonishing amount of muscle building alone, but when you add on the walk trot transitions into the program, you set yourself up for more balance in the canter. Leg aides need to be accepted and understood, so if the horse shoots off your leg into the trot too quickly, do ten more transitions until the horse doesn’t shoot off your leg (nicely, not rough). If he won’t go to the trot the first time you ask, get him to a point he responds off the leg better. Don’t use so much hand in a down transition. American riders desperately want control of the mouth and the first instinct of just about every rider I see is to close the hand to stop or slow down. However, it is the riders thighs and legs closing on the horse’s back which tells a horse to slow down, not the mouth, so if you simply communicate to the proper area, you will have a very willing animal to work with. A good trot to walk transition shows absolutely no hand movement whatsoever, and is all performed through the seat of the saddle, sitting gently and squeezing your thighs together with a goal of never having to pull on the reins. If you really want to get a horse broke properly you will do 42 transitions a ride for weeks. And most of them in the walk and trot.

I coaxed Stacey into being the demo for this video, and luckily it shows a lot of different things. It is a minute long, but you can clearly see the first transition the horse hollows out a bit and disengages his hind end, and Stacey slightly falls behind the vertical with her body, but by the end of the video the transitions are drastically improving to where you can see leg acceptance, the hind end stays underneath, and the topline stays in one place.

On day to day riding, I would tell her go to 20 more minutes of those rapid succession transitions until they are perfect. And I would encourage a bigger and bigger trot step as the transitions get better. The harder they push into the transition, the more the muscle develops. The rider should never lean back for a down transition, despite your natural instinct. Fight the instinct! Think of closing your hip and relaxing more, stretching, not bracing and pulling.

This is where the draw reins can hurt. You will be blinded and not know if your horse is listening to your leg or listening to the draw rein. I want the horse to willingly do the transition without lifting its head or dropping the hind end, and the only way to find that consistency is with as little equipment as possible. I never ever tie a horse down with a chambon and expect good results. Actually I would never get on a horse with a chambon. ever. It doesn’t happen perfectly the first day, but one week of good transitions and you will see a difference.

Allow the canter.

This is hard and scary, and really the riders who have spent time at the track are the only ones with an advantage here. Letting go of the canter and letting the horse learn to find its’ balance is a mental and physical demand only a few are very comfortable with. If that’s you, awesome. If not, I feel ya, I had to learn it the hard way. Rodrigo Pessoa made exactly one comment about 30 years ago and it changed my life, thank you Rodrigo. I owe you.  He said  “take away the resistance and the horse won’t have anything to pull against.” It is true, where is the horse gonna go? Let go, stand up, don’t panic, and stay on a big circle. Don’t do too many laps. The horse will get tired very quickly. You know those first four strides where everything feels great? And then it all goes to shit around the end of the ring and you head down the straightaway like a train out of control and next thing you know you are trotting again? Ya sister, been there. Just try a few transitions on the circle where you keep feeling those first few steps correctly, and gradually four good steps will become five, six or seven. It will get there.

It is like building blocks. If you can perform one halfway decent canter circle where the two of you are not fighting, but communicating well, chances are the next time you ask for that circle your horse will WANT to perform. However, if you create the circle from hell and bully your horse into getting what YOU think feels comfortable, your horse will remember that you were an asshole, and maybe carry that resentment forward. Good luck buddy, you will need it.

Go outside the ring.

Do I really need to explain this? Find a hill. Use it. Yes, even show hunters can do this. There is laziness across the pond, too. Less and less Europeans are riding outside of their perfectly groomed arenas, and hardly any of the horses arriving here understand what a hill is, and watching them learn how to go down a hill the first time can be comical. Ok, I get some parts of the country are flat, but if you aren’t in that part, use the land God gave us. Don’t waste the opportunity while you have it.


ride out of the ring more to find the balance


Trot to Jumping.

For some reason we have this law in our heads that a proper school of a horse is walk/trot/canter each way of the ring before you jump. School horses are programmed. We learned it that way, no one has ever changed it up, and it would be confusing to rock the boat at this point, so no one teaches it any other way. It’s fine, whatever, but when you have a horse with an awkward canter, sometimes it is best to come from a different angle. After 42 walk trot transitions you aren’t likely to be risking injury from an inefficient warm up, trust me. He is warmed up. When horses land off of a jump those first couple of strides are correct and better balanced naturally, because they are thinking of the jump, not the canter. If you repeat a trot jump and set a pole one stride away they correctly can learn what a 12 foot stride is. This is why you see gymnastics.

There is nothing wrong with changing your routine, but do it mildly. Avoid a situation requiring a horse to jump through a grid of 30 cross rails. Absolutely not necessary. Developing a good canter for a hunter can happen with a combination of maximum 3 jumps and a few poles. I have had more horses needing to re learn how to properly trot a jump and miraculously end up with an outstanding canter on the backside, because I made him think about where his body is. I didn’t get in his way, or pull on his face on the landing, and voila! There it is. Pretty soon I could trot into a line and canter out without feeling the wheels fall off underneath me.

Bad canters can often indicate power in the back end, but the horse just isn’t educated enough to know how and when to engage it. They haven’t developed the muscle in the back and the strength in the hocks to support that power, so the result is uncomfortable at best.

Riders should try to manage and improve the canter without interfering with the long term quality of the gait, and keep them sound at the same time.

When you watch this video, you can see this horse doesn’t have the best canter, it is not the worst! But I have seen better, and what I like about this sequence is that you can actually see the horse processing the questions and thinking about how to change its balance. Will the canter improve? I would think it should significantly with repeating these types of exercises.

Maybe the only thing I would add to this is exercise is a cavalletti in the corner, after the line, to introduce a lead change, hereby preventing too many abrupt corners and having to halt on a straight line every time. It is lovely when you feel a horse turn the corner smoothly, especially when they haven’t been able to do so in the past.

Does age make a difference?

YES age does matter! In Dressage, classically trained horses are taught for up to 6 years to go forward. 6 YEARS. Collection does not begin until their hocks and knees are closed and growing is complete. 4 and 5 year old horses can have really awkward growth spurts putting their system way out of whack for a time, especially smaller ones, and what we demand out of young hunters in the show ring is a bit harsh in reality, when you think about it. However, we, as a society, have sort of shoved off the concerns by using excuses like well, you know, 2’6” or 3’ is not that demanding compared to a Grand Prix horse. Well, ok, whatever, it is our culture to behave this way, but true engagement of the hocks shouldn’t really be burdened on a 4 or 5 year old, unless you don’t care whether it passes a vet check down the road when it is finally ready to be sold. I am not a huge fan of being on the backs of 3 year olds and jumping them, but again, it depends on the horseman, and depends on the horse.

Most trainers have to do what is right for them, but I do appreciate our lack of available resources for young professionals and young horses in the hunter world, and strive to encourage good development of both, not just look for the easy way to make a buck. If you really are prepared to take on young horses, do it with help, do it with time, and do it correctly. Your peers will respect you more for it. I assure you.IMG_2318.png


Not Grass Roots, part II of the 2019 US Equestrian Meeting

it is not grass roots, it is fundamental.

There was a session at the 2019 US Equestrian meeting which I felt warranted an article of its own.

It is the Fundamental group of competing horse owners across this country who are being pushed out of sanctioned horse showing based on the rising costs of an interfering Federation with predatory characteristics and strict (some say over) regulation. This is the simple explanation of an evolution of hunter jumper horse showing across the nation, in my eyes.

In many places across the country you have actually already left, gone, vamoose, and you are not looking back….

Where are you going?

Many of you are re-discovering the Thoroughbred. The wildly successful TB circuits are filling the gap at an accelerated pace simply by offering affordable showing costs, limited divisions and rules, and little to no overhead. I hear it everywhere, I am asked lately (well, more and more) to find my clients Thoroughbreds, a request I never thought my business would ever in a million years hear or experience again. Horse trading Thoroughbreds is still far from easy (because Americans are trying to recollect how to actually ride a thoroughbred), but the challenge has been accepted, and wow, a lot of you are in the game again. I experienced personally the mania last year in TIP shows, witnessed the Take2 TB classes, saw the checks rolling out to year end award recipients, and watched in awe almost the entire Retired Racehorse Project. It is all beyond impressive. The RRP grew so fast, in fact, the organization was forced to increase the application fee to accommodate the growing interest and also added a whole new day to the schedule to better serve exhibitors. What a great problem to have for Thoroughbreds…

You weighed in on your experience and left sanctioned showing behind and your wallet is heavier because of it.


Version 2

If you are a fundamental rider who still has a warmblood, you also have made a financial decision to limit the amount of showing on the A circuit to accommodate an actual budget. So maybe you spend 3 weeks of showing in Florida for the experience, but that prevents you from showing for the next three months after February. Which is fine! You get to show in Florida!! … the sunshine!!! Yay you!! Go you!!

I think I have point in here somewhere…..

I guess I am watching both the USHJA and USEF evolve as well, but in oddly opposite directions. And in their own evolution, they are putting some heavy focus on recruiting new members, and one way to find them is through the affiliate organizations. The need for money coming into the organizations is exceptionally high right now, so these fundamental competitors are tasked with financing all of the other levels which cost a gross amount of funding. Exorbitant amounts of bonuses are paid to riders and horses at the very top of the USEF pyramid, for example. Ironically, these are often the wealthiest of the riders we have in America. What do they need the bonuses for? More fancy equipment? I am pretty sure the top 1% already has a support system to buy whatever they need, so the thought of the Federation writing a check to top tier riders because they were chosen to represent our team sorta makes me cringe. That money can be used better, in my naive and and cynical mind.

What else are you doing?

Choosing your schedule differently? Choosing your horse purchases differently? What has more meaning to you? A year end award/class or championship? Or convenience of showing close to home? Zone 3 has a healthy and robust non-sanctioned show circuit which I have repeatedly asked other Zones or states to follow, study and see if it is a formula which might work in their own area. The burgeoning unrecognized shows are not shrinking away in areas with intelligent, motivated people who have figured out how to run a mildly decent horse show. Some are better than others. Some you may have to bring your own food or contribute to a potluck lunch table. Some you have to pack your horse’s water. (you should do this anyway, but, oddly enough along the way, many people forgot this basic necessity)


From a typical East Coast Fundamental mom :

Our Goals with showing

  • Gaining Experience
  • Cultivating a Love of Horses 
  • Developing Horsemanship
  • Having Fun
  • With Some Luck, a ribbon.
  • Local End of Year Awards (if we get super lucky)
  • Give a Young Horse some positive mileage

My son, 8 years old, is in his 6th year of showing at unrecognized shows, with the exception of Devon (once- won lead line in 2015), Upperville and Warrenton (again Lead line).  He is a member of VHSA and the Battlefield Horse Show Association.  

Right now, we solely do unrecognized shows in Short Stirrup and Pony Pleasure.  We can do 3 divisions for $135 total.  Up to this point, he has been uncompetitive in SS because he doesn’t know his diagonals and he is a laid back boy who is a loose goose in the saddle.  My goal for him is just to gain experience and gain a love of the sport.  As much as I love showing at the bigger shows, there is no need for me to spend the money when he is not competitive yet.  I also have a non-horsey husband.  He likes the shows, but if we were constantly gone for multiple days and spending lots of money, he may balk.  I’m trying to ease him into things!  

myers 1

I had a young horse prospect 2 years ago that I started showing locally and she gained some useful mileage before being sold as a pre-green horse.

We ride with a number of other kids who solely do unrecognized shows.  Their goal, in addition to improving their riding and horses, is to show at the VHSA Assoc. Finals in Nov.  To show at that show, one must do 5 VHSA Associate Shows.  From what I see, their parents are not horse people but support their kids in achieving this goal.  But, I did hear complaints about the long days when we showed at the VHSA Assoc Show this year.  They are not used to the long days or lack of scheduling (ie. hurry up and wait)

I really feel that people doing the one day shows are not looking to get USEF/USHJA points.  Instead, the VHSA Associate Show proves that people want to have a “bigger” show experience (there were 60 Short Stirrup rides, and over 100 14&U Eq on the Flat riders!)  Doing well at these bigger shows means more than the end of the year awards.  

I preface this by saying I am not really familiar with the Stirrup Cup or the Outreach Shows.  (Maybe these are what I am suggesting)  Perhaps the USEF could cultivate the “middle” tier of riders by setting a goal that is not point driven.  Chasing points does nothing to encourage these folks to show.  Why not require AA show management to have a ring dedicated to opportunity classes or make Sunday a day for opportunity classes. That way trainers could bring all of their people to the same show, and other trainers may introduce their riders to shows that otherwise they would not know about.  People could also watch the rated divisions and perhaps develop new goals.  I live in Culpeper and many of the kids we ride with have never stepped foot on the HITS show grounds. Additionally, the fees should be lower/non-existent and this should pertain to show management/office/grounds fees. (I’m amazed how my stall at VHSA Finals was half of what it is at a AA show) The “opportunity divisions”  fit this bill but are RARELY offered.

That’s all for now.  In summary– we want a good show experience but are not looking for year end awards or points.  We know that we need to step up for that level.

Courtney Frankhouser Myers

myers 2

Isn’t interesting she didn’t even know about the Outreach Program?

Why does everyone always assume people don’t go to horse shows unless they are qualifying for some unknown variable? I can’t wrap my head around this logic. There are loads of people showing who don’t give a crap about receiving an award, but our institutions REFUSE to listen to that piece of it, so we create and create and create, only to wonder why no one is signing up for our creations. It is so dumb. Not everyone wins at the RRP or a TIP show, but the experience of competing at the Kentucky Horse Park is amazing!!

There are two kinds of people out there, people who like to show when they can show and people who show with a goal of a championship on their minds. The advantage comes from knowing how to please both people.

It used to be people could stomach signing up for a Federation and Affiliate membership in order to show at just one competition, because the fun of showing at a fancy show one time was just alluring enough to justify the extra expense. Those days are long gone! You try to convince someone these days? You are met with a look of jest followed by a litany of ‘over my dead body’ remarks. Why? Because the options are out there. Hunt Clubs solved this problem ages ago by offering varying types of memberships depending on how often you hunted. Hunt less than 6 times? No problem! Here’s a membership plan for you…. Got the bug now?? okey dokey, full membership for you!….Currently, we don’t have that option, but it would be nice if we did, and for once it would be nice if a Federation stayed current on the needs of the majority of members.

licensed officials struggling to find work

At the USHJA meeting I ran into a few people frustrated with the lack of available work for newly licensed judges with a small ‘r’. Managers tend to re-hire the same judges year after year, and breaking into that old world club is met with an insane level of difficulty and closed doors until those judges decide to retire. In the past the ‘r’ judge gained a tremendous amount of experience through one day horse shows which eventually led to bigger and better paying judging jobs down the road. However, with the sudden extinction of these B and C (or Regional I and II) shows in some areas, they simply cannot be hired because the work is no longer there. Many ‘r’ judges are amateurs who actually have other full time jobs. Some are not amateurs and have spent a great deal of time and money to become licensed, but lack the initial network to help them get started.

Is there a solution?

I have found that convincing a show manager to run a single day recognized horse show is met with much resistance. The costs to the Federations alone are staggering and it is nearly to impossible to run a single day show at profit. The risk is too great.  I think incentives are needed for those one day shows, and the cost to the Federation needs to be greatly reduced, or some sort of short term (two year) incentive plan put into place. Say you have a viable facility and an ambitious show manager, could you not offer a package, say offering a series of 4-6 shows through the calendar year but you get to run a bonus show with no costs to the Federation? Or only pay the Federation if the show runs at a profit? Single day horse shows cannot run at a loss, period. You don’t need a business degree to see how that will not work with a show manager. I guess we have to take in the solution of the Outreach Program and hope it spreads fast enough across the country to keep the door open to riders and trainers showing primarily on a local circuit. Many show managers feel the Outreach classes are what is saving their horses shows all together, otherwise they would be running completely in the red.

What else?

Do you think offering an equal balance of points for any division up to the 3’6” height is fair? Or did we screw up by slashing points when you didn’t show at a premiere or national show even though the competition is basically the same. An adult amateur is an adult amateur is an adult amateur. So why should you get more points just because you prefer to write bigger checks and show at fancier places? Personally, I don’t see why any adult or children’s hunter should be on a different point scale when you all are the same level riding ability but maybe that is just me. Someone along the way (probably a show manager) saw more logic in awarding more points for higher rated shows, despite the competitors being the same competitors. I don’t know. I think maybe the point scale should be the same across the board, no matter how big or how little you write a check for your entry fees. Maybe this is why I found the Child/Adult Hunter Championships so fun, because all levels of adult amateurs and children’s hunter riders were represented and enjoyed the experience.


Bringing back hunter breeding to one day shows…Actually, I got nothing here. I am sympathetic to the hunter breeding competitors, but even if any of us has a good idea how to breathe life into that division, we would be met with resistance. Just because. If you all want to show at one day shows speak up. And keep speaking up. In my eyes I see it easier to bring babies to a one day horse show, and having a little hunter breeding chaos at the end of the day would be fun I think. Do you want the Hunter Breeding to be on a Zone level or National level? Do you want to see hunter breeding at Zone Finals?


Preserving the land and whose shoulders would that fall on? Rapidly disappearing land is no secret in some parts of the country and someone brought up the fact that maybe the USEF should start helping preserve land our venues sit on, rather than milk the venues to fill up their pocketbook. This is actually a really good idea, and would be a nice gesture to a Federation who acts like Godzilla half the time. After all, what is the point of sanctioned horse shows, if there are no venues to show out of? Smaller show organizations cannot fight the land loss alone, so if USEF did a little ‘outreach’ of its own, it would restore a little faith in the members.

I think it is funny to watch the organizations chase their tails so much. The entire country shifts and changes and moves away from what those organizations set up and it takes years to cycle back. No one wants to stay ahead of the curve, and the slow process to implement legislation doesn’t help either. It is a shame, there was so much potential to roll with the tide, but we somehow lacked the foresight to actually ride the biggest wave to shore….

Someone told me this week during the annual meeting we might need a few more people really willing to fight for the programs we love within the USHJA. I agree, you need to really fight for what you want. At least for the time being. The two organizations go hand in hand, but membership involvement is clearly not as welcome in USEF as it is in USHJA.

I’ll continue to share the heck out of the USHJA programs, I’ll get behind the ones I like, and insist on changing the ones I don’t like, and I’ll explain to YOU what makes them good programs so when YOU are ready, they are there for you.  I am going be an activist in my own way, not in a control freak kind of way. I am not going to collect any more data, I already pay close attention to the markets, and I already see what is happening out there, but I do want to hear about how people prioritize their competition lifestyles.

I don’t think either the USHJA or USEF will ever get ahead of the competition world and as we watch other turmoils start to unfold in front of us, I wonder if they will eventually end up paying the ultimate price. I hope not, our livelihoods do depend on their success.