Photography Friday: Dyland and Rizzo

You may not know Dylan Phillips personally, but if you’re a horse person on the internet, there’s a decent chance you’ve seen her before. Almost half a million have seen her viral video, after all:

Dylan and Rusty, a few years later ❤

Now a little bit older, Dylan is one heck of a rider and just waiting until her 14th birthday before she can rock and roll around Prelim with her new partner, Rizzo. Rizzo, aka Fernhill Fierce, is an Irish Sport Horse mare and the new love of Dylan’s life. We took these images to memorialize the start of this beautiful partnership, and I can’t wait to see what these two accomplish together!

Have a great weekend all! And please, if you have a minute, check in with yesterday’s poll on blog content!


House on a Hill in 2018

It’s no secret that this blog has been a little less loved in the last couple months than regular readers are used to. Mostly that’s due to a huge increase in my photography work, temporarily riding 2 horses, and now being in a committed 2x/week lesson program.

In 2018 I hope to get a bit more back in sync with the going’s on in blogland, but I’m curious as to what you guys want to see as the new year approaches. Please take a moment and let me know what type of content you enjoy most, and want to see more of next year!

Let’s Discuss: Courage in Riding

Being brave is something I have struggled with since a child, and is one of the biggest mental challenges I deal with as an adult amateur.

I tend to assume that professional riders are where they are today not because of bank rolls and nice horses, but because of their lack of fear, or ability to mine courage where seemingly none exists. To me it goes hand in hand with the grit that is required of making a living from riding horses. Sometimes I dream of the fences I would jump if only I weren’t so cowardly, or how far along I would have progressed in my riding career if only I hadn’t been scared to try more challenges along the way.

Tattoo that helps me find my mojo

Yet despite my apparent lack of balls, the situation is that I own a horse that is a downright worry-wort. And two weenies do not [obviously] make for a brave combination. Add in that, oh yeah, we’re eventers, and bravery is kind of a necessary quality in this sport.

Jack is therefore teaching me to be brave, every ride. My trainer has embedded a mantra in my head for all those times he goes to look or spook at something- and that’s this:

Don’t tell him what not to do. Only show him what to do.

Here Jack, let me show you how to ditch

So if he gets tense, I shouldn’t also get tense- instead I should sit deeply, remind him to focus on the rhythm and going forward. It’s been a huge learning curve to go against instinct and not clutch the reins in panic, but slowly and surely I’m becoming a more reliable partner for my giant scaredy cat. Which I need to be- because as George Morris puts it, every second in the saddle you are either training the horse or untraining the horse. And if I have any hope of creating a confident partner in Jack, I need to be brave myself and show him the way.

Is finding courage something you also struggle with? How do you overcome your fear in the saddle? Is your horse one that gives you confidence, or do you also find yourself being the brave one? What tips or tricks do you have for squashing fear?

Photography Friday: Sofia and Sunny

I’ve done so many shoots recently that I honestly can’t remember which I’ve shared and which I haven’t! So let me share one of my more recent sessions- this is Sofia and Sunny, a Welsh cross mare that is just beyond precious. The sweet relationship that these two have was just adorable- Sunny is nothing like your typical pony mare, and Sofia just showered her with love and kisses- all I had to do was press the shutter button!

I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend!

Boyd Martin Clinic: Day 2 Recap Continued

When we left off yesterday, we had just gone up and down banks, and Jack was having plenty of green moments throughout the day. Well sadly, those green moments only increased from there.

Our next exercise was over ditches. Oh lordy. Jack and I had yet to do a ditch together, and I suspect that the last time he did a ditch was last winter. We warmed up over a tiny (like, green-as-grass) “ditch” and then moved on to the only other ditch on the property- a max-Novice (maybe even Training) ditch.

Boyd schooled us through the introduction first- coming at it with more steam than necessary to just get them over it, and then slow things down on each subsequent approach. We were to have long reins, with our hands essentially in our lap in order to have our crop at a place that we could tap the horse on the ribs if need be. Again, not only am I bad at the whole long reins thing, but I also could not reach Jack’s ribs with my pony bat. After explaining to Boyd that A) I had fat thighs (yes I said this) and B) I had a short bat so C) that wasn’t working for us and D) oh yeah, and I have no idea what this horse is like with ditches, he then made me trade with another for a crop that could actually reach and sent us on our way. Below is the result of that.

And yup, I nearly ran Boyd over. Multiple times. But we finally got over it, and Jack Jack got lots of pats for being a brave ponykins. You can see that we got over it a couple more times, and then we had to move on to the next thing. We have a schooling planned for a different venue in a couple weeks that has different levels of ditches, and this is definitely one of the goals for that session. Get ready for moar ditches, Jack!

At that point, I won’t lie, I was a little brain dead. But we kept rolling, and next on the agenda was the bowl. We were told to keep an up hill, showjumping canter through the base of the bowl, and once we got to the sharp hill (with a small fence at the top), we were to accelerate and not pick to any kind of spot. Then the task was to roll back to a small log going back down the hill, and then reverse the order. Welp, you can see how that went for us.

I should have fought for it more, in truth. He tried spooking at the hanging log on the way back down as well, but I got him over it the first time. Pony- stop being such a spaz!

We wrapped up the day at the water complex. Going through at trot to get their toes wet, and then trotting up and out up a bank to a small log, which happily rode really well for the golden boy. Doing that in reverse… well, not so good. Again we got in a pickle of there not being a baby-version of the drop into water to work with, and despite trying a leader and lots of encouragement, Boyd suggested I come back and school that another time. We finished by cantering through in order to end on a good note.

Overall I found Boyd to be a very positive instructor, whose knowledge and experience really shine in showing how to approach different fences based on the type of horse you are riding. He definitely showed us where there are holes in our training, particularly on cross country, and I now have a plan on how to fill those holes and prepare for competition settings. Thanks to all the folks who came out to audit and take the video/media you see on the blog this week, and thanks to Boyd for kicking our butts and still giving us hope!

Boyd Martin Clinic: Day 2 Recap

Day 2 of the Boyd Clinic was cross country- which I admit is probably my weakest phase. Probably because my education in the 3 phases is balanced like this:

And even that may be generous for XC

So I was a bit nervous going into XC with Boyd. My goal was to do my best, given that I had schooled Jack XC exactly 3 times, and try not to run over Boyd Martin.

We started out looking at our galloping position, with Boyd describing how on cross country it’s better to keep a longer rein throughout the course rather than be constantly adjusting, and how to plant our hands at our horses withers so that we had 4 points of balance (2 hands, 2 legs) while galloping along. I will be the first to say I am bad at this, and throughout these videos you’ll hear Boyd yell at me to lengthen my reins.

We then moved on to some small fences. Jack decided XC day would be the day to bring out his spook, and we had quite a few of them- at jumps, shadows, even different colored grass. Granted we had never jumped the tires before, but it was a little annoying to be that person after feeling so good the day before. But that’s why we train, and it was all a learning opportunity!

After that we strung together even more fences, practicing our gallop between the log and the coop. He’s subtle about it, but Jack continued to be a bit of a looker through this and the rest of the day as well. After thinking about stopping to the final fence (which looks so much smaller in the video than in person!), I asked to come again. Like I said yesterday, Boyd doesn’t seem to mind if a pair isn’t picture perfect- the goal is more about being effective, fair, and getting the job done. But he allowed me to do the last two fences again and suggested trying to take out a stride between the two. I got corrected on how I “perch” a little forward in my gallop position, and I need to sit up and shoulder back on XC. I think I improved on this throughout the day, and a lot of it I’m sure is being weak in my core and legs- lots to work on!

Banks came next, and he had us focus on getting a deep spot to the up-bank out of stride, and anchoring our hands up the horse’s neck, almost getting ahead of the motion for this one type of fence. Then Boyd talked us through 2 approaches to going down a drop. One being leaning forward slightly and going with the horse down the drop, and the second, which we practiced, was leaning back, with long reins and getting behind the motion of the horse.

I’ll save the rest of XC day for tomorrow’s post, which will include the infamous ditch video you may have seen on instagram, and describe in detail how I almost did fail my goal of not running over an Olympian. Until then!

Boyd Martin Clinic: Day 1 Recap

If you want to burn off Thanksgiving dinner in a hurry- don’t do what I did (which is A) drink too much wine and B) do a clinic two days later). Do something… more relaxing.

I don’t know what’s going on here but it looks easier.

Boyd started out by discussing the various lengths of stirrup, and so we lengthened our stirrup to a flatwork length and warmed up with an emphasis on dressage- compressing and lengthening, getting the horse soft through the neck, etc. Jack started out fairly tight because of the number of horses and spectators, but finally settled once he understood the job.

We then moved on to building through a gymnastic line. We trotted a circle to get the horse round and soft (something Jack struggled with after standing) and then approaching the line- 1 stride to a 2 stride to a 2 stride. Jack’s stride is really big, and he definitely had a hard time compressing to meet the first two stride question. Each time the emphasis was on keeping the horse straight and landing and cantering in the opposite direction of our approach. We haven’t done so many combinations yet, and at one point in time Jack spooked coming into the sea of rails. But overall he jumped well and Boyd was very complimentary of his abilities.

We next went to doing a figure 8 over the crossed gates you can see in the background of the above video. Boyd cautioned us not to use our torso to get the horse to land on the correct lead. Instead, we needed to keep our upper body straight and not jump ahead, and focus on just using our head and an opening rein to guide the horse. Even though it was a figure 8, he also placed guide rails on the backside of the fence so that we would stay straight for 2 strides after the jump- avoiding the temptation to keep turning in the air instead of giving a straighter approach/away.

From there we started stringing fences together. First with bending lines incorporating the liverpool and big oxer in the corner, and quickly adding on other elements that tested our balance and getting the correct lead.

Since the line, which most horses got in 6 strides, was riding in a forward 5 for Jack, Boyd had me ride very quietly into it and wanted my to end on 6 strides for the day. So we finished by having all the riders go around the outside of the track, and I was challenged to keep Jack steady. Again our greenness with combinations showed through the treble, which was a tight one to a two stride, and we finished by adding on a bending line to another oxer at the end.

Overall, I learned a lot about my horse- that he’s a good jumper, but we have work to do in regards to teaching him that he now has a 3rd gear he can use- and that’s a quieter step that’s still active and balanced. My leg still needs to get tighter, and I learned that I need to not obsess over getting the perfect ride every time. Boyd was positive and encouraging, but definitely rewarded a gritty ride that got the job done. We wrapped up with a drink and some chili and Jack went home for some well deserved mash and a little rest before day 2!

Let’s Discuss: A Winter Season

Most horse sports are considered year round ventures, but in the eventing world as adult amateurs we typically consider our competition year over before Thanksgiving. That is, of course, unless you are close to Aiken or Ocala, the two winter havens of eventing.

Loving the views of Wellington this past winter

Truthfully, I feel like this year the season ended before it really began. Granted, I am only months into my relationship with Jack, and I’m acutely feeling the lack of competition after 3 years away from Fosterpants. I want to keep at it both because I miss competing so much as well as wanting to continue exposing Jack to all the things, instead of taking a break.

Spectator selfie- trying to stay warm during a winter clinic!

I chatted with a friend who is originally from Belgium, and she noted that there is a separate winter season thanks to the popularity of indoor arenas there. Luckily, the facility I board Jack at happens to have an indoor arena, and so I am blessed to keep riding through the cold and wet where many fellow NC natives are forced to quit when the dark winter months roll around.

So I’m currently looking at the calendar and trying to see what opportunities exist for outings. We’ve got the Boyd clinic this weekend, and then our schedule looks like a pretty big question mark after that. Do I go to Aiken? Settle in at home and grind away at honing our skills? What to do!

What about you guys? Is your season over? What are your winter plans? How does this time of year affect your riding and your competition schedule? How does your location affect your winter goals? What skills do you plan to refine over the coming months? 

Show Recap: November War Horse BN XC

Having walked my course three times I felt confident that THIS time, I had no excuse for any kind of amateur moment. I knew that thing backwards and forwards, and though my feet hated me, I was sure I would remember my way around all 17 obstacles.

The course was nice in that it built in difficulty as it went along. Fences 1-4 were really straight forward, with the first question being a log pile on a slanted hill at fence 5. From there you went through the water and out over an inviting roll top, straight on to the world’s widest BN fence, and then a nice gallop up and down terrain to some combinations.

The second combination was what I was most unsure about- a log pile, followed by a U-turn left to a down bank and then slight bending line to a roll top. The only time I had ever done a bank with Jack was during the trial period, and that was only once down a baby (18″) bank. But I figured if I kicked on we would be fine.

One thing I noticed he struggled with at the last show was cantering down hills- Jack wants to come back to a trot immediately- so I decided this was an excellent thing we could practice to stay in rhythm through this course.

We had a bee-yutiful warm up and we felt really synced as I left the start box, and from there you can ride along with us:

My constant nattering will tune you in to where he shined, though it’s hard to tell from this vantage point where I felt him backing off or losing straightness as he made his way around the course. Fence 4 may have been “not cute” because we both got distracted by a person walking behind it, and a car driving behind it that you can’t see on video. The bank was a little bit of a scramble as well.

All in all I was beyond thrilled with how he built confidence through the course, and I admit I’m proud of myself for kicking on, even if I wish I was a little less talkative on course.

Our double clear round helped us stay in 3rd place- just .5 points out of contention for the bottle of wine that was 2nd place’s prize, and a healthy 10 points behind 1st- but considering Bobby Meyerhoff ran Rolex this year, I’m OK with that.

The show was a great way to end our short little season, and I have to say- I’m becoming a heck of a fan of the big banana boat!

Show Recap: November War Horse BN Dressage and Stadium

Just to recap, our goals for this show were:

  1. End on a number and not a letter.
  2. Score in the low 30s dressage.
  3. Double clear SJ and XC
  4. Have Jack be a happier creature in his stall

And now that list looks like….

  1. End on a number and not a letter.
  2. Score in the low 30s dressage.
  3. Double clear SJ and XC
  4. Have Jack be a happier creature in his stall


Saturday morning was bloody cold, and I got to the horse park about an hour and a half before our test. This in itself was a first for us, since normally we are there a day early and school XC and SJ (an amazing opportunity at this venue). But we came in cold this weekend in more ways than one, missing our schooling opportunity as well as our schedule jumping lesson that week. Bummer.

But Jack seemed settled and soon I was out warming up for dressage. This was a huge show, with 5 dressage rings going at one time. All the horses share one flat warmup, and I thought Jack handled the chaos with really good attitude. He was a bit tense and therefore behind my leg, but the test we put in was accurate and obedient. We got an 8 on our first centerline and final halt, things I specifically wanted to work on, and comments about staying steady in the contact, and the right canter transitiong, which is not so shocking as it continues to be a work in progress. With a 32.6 we ended in 4th place out of 20 after dressage. (No media, so here’s practice of the other BN test a few days prior)

If the dressage warmup was chaos, the jumping warmup was a legitimate hot mess. Horses rearing, spinning, passing on the left, jumping the warmup fence backwards… Seriously- who were these yahoos? But again Jack proved his worth and handled it well, though felt like he needed a wake up call for the most part, and I needed to remember not to lean through turns and think about going on the back side of the fence so we didn’t land in a heap.

Our stadium course

Our actual stadium round was nothing like our warmup. The number of brightly colored sticks in one place was sensory overload for poor Jack, and he bounced off the fences spooking as we made our way to fence 1. We got some less than great spots, including a moment where I thought I was going to actually land on his neck, but thanks to the yellow beastie’s ability and a get er’ done mentality we got around double clear and moved up to 3rd.

Tomorrow’s recap: XC!