Category Archives: Eventing

10th at Caber

Ribbons don’t actually matter in eventing — that insanely good feeling you get when you come off a well-ridden cross country is one of the best parts of the sport. But it is nice to come home with a pretty ribbon sometimes, albeit a powder blue one for 10th. I called it a war of attrition at Caber —Cairo and I got a ribbon because the rest of the folks in my group fell off.

But hey, as that T-shirt I want to get says: “Stayed on! Won prizes!”

My partner in eventing crime and I Kristine got there early and Cairo and I had a good dressage school, where Meika had me fight my instinct to try to lower my hands to try to get Cairo to give at the poll and release at the base of the neck and rather let her relax and come to me. Relax is a key word with Little Miss Thing.

(On a side note, Little Miss Thing is an expression Southerners and often gay men use to refer to a woman or man who thinks she’s all that. I recently discovered that Kristine thought I was making a Munsters reference.)

Originally I was delighted to see that the same dressage judge who judged us at almost every other show this summer (including the schooling show where she called Cairo a “hot little unit”) was judging us again. Cairo has been progressing beautifully all summer. She still swishes her tail and makes faces but her gaits are rhythmic and she lacks the tense high-kneed trot she used to have. Sadly for Cairo and I, judges judge you on what they see right then and there, and not on your great progress. Each of these events has at least five dressage arenas with five different judges, so it’s rather impressive this poor lady keeps having to judge me.

Cairo was, as always, a good girl. She is clearly disgusted by dressage, but she never tries anything bad. She never leaps or bucks or even breaks gait. She just swishes her tail and gnaws the bit, and pretty much the judge’s comments were “Unhappy mouth” and “tense.” This time she had nothing to say on my position (which I have been working hard on!) but we finished dressage DFL — dead fucking last.

Meika pointed out that her own wonderful currently-prelim horse Lear didn’t score great at the lower levels either in dressage, and that my goal is to move her up.  And I reminded myself that there’s nowhere to go but up, and that this time last year Cairo was hanging in a pasture and very, very green with a head-tossing issue.  We got a 45.7, possibly our worst score since our very first show at EI at starter where we got a 57. Same judge. Heck, technically we’ve improved!

Before Caber I had Leslie double-check the fit of Cairo’s dressage saddle, and I’ve also talked to Kari about getting Cairo’s teeth done again and then some more bodywork. I’ve done all that before, but it doesn’t hurt to double check that her mouth fussiness is just tension and not discomfort.

I had a nice late morning (9:42 am) ride for xc on Saturday, which gave us plenty of time for course walking (I walk it three times, every time).  For the first time in forever, I was really not worried about anything on course. That’s not to say I didn’t look at a fence or two and think really hard. Fence four was a palisades-looking ramp set on the side of a slight rise near trees and then it was just a couple strides to fence five (a log and drop) and I knew Cairo would be fine as long as I rode her well, but she’d never done a fence like that.

As you can probably guess, based on Cairo’s track record, she was amazing. Optimum time was five minutes and we did 4:39 so maybe a little fast, but not fast enough for time faults. She headed for the first fences with her usually cocky enthusiasm, log, brush ramp, house, whatevs. She didn’t look at fence four and the log drop at fence five didn’t make her bat an eyelash. She skittered a little on a long gallop to fence six at the sight of a fence judge but soon got back on track. And she slowed just off my voice after the gallop. As strong and hot as she appears, I’m still riding her in a soft rubber mullen mouth xc.

A wanna-be-coffin after we rounded the loop and head back to the finish? No problem. The only problem there was she jumped the ditch so big we got rather close to the fence three strides away (or more like two-and-a-half strides the way we did it).

The water complex was super fun:

First, a table heading towards the finish. I’m a little tense there — not sure if she will land and grab the bit and head for home when I need to make a show-jumping type turn away from home toward the brush fence and water!

photo 1-2

Signature tail flip on landing.

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Left turn to the brush? No problem.

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photo 5-1

So then I was all in show-jump brain and headed for the water in a happy two-point.


Cairo remembered last time we schooled water at Inavale we had jumped off a drop. She saw the water and rocked back. I merrily fell forward onto her neck:

photo 1-1

And I’m now laughing wildly because Cairo is bunny-hopping through the water, and I’m relieved my brief moment of stupid didn’t result in my being IN the water while she splashed on without me!

photo 2-1

photo 3

photo 4

And out of the water to the next fence? No prob.

photo 2

We finished double clear and I was over-the-moon happy!

Then we got randomly selected for a USEF drug test. The nice vet tech was almost no match for Cairo’s stubbornness, which apparently extends to peeing while someone holds a cup. She drank and held her bladder for over an hour. When she finally peed, she pressed her booty up against the stall wall and kept trying to hold it so the urine came in fits and spurts while the vet tech chased it with the cup on a stick. We made taking blood easy on the vet — I held a small bucket of beet pulp and Cairo snarfed that and ignored the blood letting.

Stadium was another learning experience. Cairo jumps better if I let her be a little gappy to the fence, and I know that. But the horse of the girl before me slipped in the grass twice and fell, and I found myself trotting into the arena while people called for a vet to check him out. I was thrown and worried about the footing and held Cairo to a short choppy canter. It wasn’t slow but it lacked power and when we get a tight distance on that canter, she whacks fences. We had two rails right off the top and then I sat up and rode.  Once I let her flow, the course finished beautifully. We had one more rail after a drunken swerve turned a two-stride into a three stride but it was enough to stay in the ribbons and be the caboose on the victory gallop.

Ribbons or no, Cairo and I are finishing each show thinking “Damn, that was fun!” and I’m plotting what I can do to improve. I gave her a couple days off and yesterday in my lesson with Kari, we worked on developing a bouncy strong canter Cairo can jump even tight distances from. Kari leaves for Spruce Meadows tomorrow and then Cairo and I will work on dressage til we do a little combined test at EI to finish she season.  Tentative plan? Do Novice dressage and stadium Saturday and then Training stadium Sunday. Ack!








Can horses eat walnuts?

“Can horses eat walnuts?” “Walnut equine laminitis” “My horse ate a walnut.” Those were all searches I frantically typed into Google on my iPhone last night.

It was really hot — 100 degrees, which is crazy for Oregon — and after I rode Cairo, I hosed her, scraped her and grazed her. The greenest grass on the farm right now is under a large black walnut tree, so Cairo and I sauntered over there.

Have I mentioned that Cairo has a voracious appetite? She eats like a starved wolverine. She vacuums her grass hay, wolfs her alfalfa and can smell soaking beet pulp from a mile away. I’ve had her snake her head around a stall door, snatch a bowl of soaking beet pulp pellets, tip it into her mouth and snarf it down before I could take a single step. Then she looks at me with her bright, interested eyes and a “What else you got?” expression.

Luckily she also has a high metabolism and seems to be able to consume vast amounts of food and stay trim.

But walnuts?

As we grazed, watching the sunset, I saw out of the corner of my eye that Cairo was making her “I see something I want” face that she usually makes in the vicinity of the apple tree right before she snatches fruit right off the branches. As I heard the crunch, I put two and two together and realized she had scarfed up a walnut.

I dove for her mouth, and she took a step back, looking at me all the while, and rolled it around in her mouth and crunched again. At this point I wasn’t too worried — I figured the walnut husk would taste bitter and she’d spit it out. She has a get-it-in-your-mouth-first-and-then-decide attitude towards edibles. Nope, she tasted that nut and deemed it good and like Mr. Owl and the Tootsie Pop, she crunched again and it was gone.

As balls to the wall as she is, I still give Cairo credit for generally being sensible. She’s cocky, but I don’t think she has a death wish. So my first thought, after “OMFG aren’t walnuts toxic to horses?” was that I didn’t think she would eat something that would hurt her. Tansy grows in a lot of Northwest pastures, and it’s toxic to horses but unless they are starving, they simply don’t eat it, so I have a good reason for believing Cairo might show some sense. Also, I have seen her spit out rocks, cherry pits and other less than tasty objects after snatching them up.

Still, most horse people know that if you bed an equine on black walnut shavings, they will often develop laminitis within eight hours, so it stands to reason snarfing walnuts isn’t a great idea.

So I plopped Cairo back in her stall with a big slurpy bowl of beet pulp (operating on “dilution is the solution” when it comes to possible toxins) and began to Google.

I soon learned that: Black walnuts and horses come up a lot in discussion. That there have been dreadful experiments involving pouring black walnut extract into horse bellies to induce laminitis. A lot of people have black walnuts in horse pastures with no ill-effect.

Most importantly I found the the Oregon Veterinary Association says that while the heartwood of black walnuts is linked to laminitis, eating walnuts is not.

I contemplated giving her Banamine preventatively but with the weather so hot, I didn’t feel good giving her something that might slow her gut down unless I needed to. It’s hard to walk that fine line between practical and paranoia when it comes to fragile 1,000 lb beasts who seem to pour a lot of energy into killing and maiming themselves.

I finally left the barn and went home … and Googled more until I realized I was just going to keep coming up with the same information over and over again, and while many people talked about black walnut shavings-induced laminitis, and many talked about black walnuts being toxic, no one seemed to have any experience with a horse getting sick from eating walnuts or even leaves. MInd you, it did dawn on me to wonder if maybe most horses, who don’t have Cairo’s experimental tastes, just don’t eat black walnuts but I did finally get to sleep and stop fretting. Drinking gin helped.

I popped awake this morning and decided I would get a lot more done at work today if I wasn’t fretting, so I drove to the barn before heading to the office. When I walked in, there was Cairo, bright eyed and, since it wasn’t feeding or turnout time yet, hungry.

She’d eaten all her hay, reached under the stall partition and stolen Flash’s feed tub and cleaned that out, and possibly stolen some of his hay, too. No heat or swelling in her legs, lots of poop in her stall. Phew. I tossed her a couple bites of hay to tide her over until turnout time and headed to work — where I freely admit, I Googled horses and walnuts a couple more times, just to be sure.

I think as long as little miss thing doesn’t make a habit of walnut snacking, she’s going to be OK, but of course I will go check her tonight to make sure!

Rebecca and don’t point a loaded pony unless you mean to shoot

One of the many fun things about Cairo is trying to figure her out. She watches me with her bright eyes and I can see the wheels turning in her brain — sometimes plotting and sometimes looking for attention and sometimes just because some part of her is in constant motion, whether it’s her brain, her mouth on the bit or her legs dancing because she’s dying to just GO.

This weekend I figured out just how much she tunes into my eyes. I had a lesson with Kari in order to work on our stadium. It’s nice that after years as a jumper rider, I got a horse who rocks the cross county (my weak spot) and needs work on the jumper round (my strong point, usually).

We finished out of the ribbons at Rebecca because we had some rails in the stadium. I honestly don’t know what place or care where we finished because I was so pleased with Cairo overall — she was so brave and, for the lack of a better word, I’ll repeat where I started — fun. As we were warming up, one of the other horses in the ring launched into a full-on bucking session — back humped and head between his legs. I hopped off Cairo when I saw the rider, who did an amazing job, finally coming off. When I saw the horse begin bolting, Cairo and I slid out of the arena before they could shut the gate.

Cairo handled it well, but she (or possibly I) was just a little more frazzled than usual after that. She schooled well and Meika had me pushing my knuckles into her neck so I followed the rhythm with more flow, and that worked great. We got into the ring and she went after the fences with her customary enthusiasm — I will be surprised the day she actually spooks at a fence! But although she overjumped all the fences, this time she dangled a foot here or there and caught four rails. A couple times she overshot her arc. Basically she was green. Hell, she’s five and Rebecca was her fourth real show and the first one in May was at starter level. She and I have lots of time to work on stadium and I’m just excited at how well she handled everything!

I was pleased with my ride and that was a good feeling. I put her well to the fences and my eq and balance were good. There’s something about Cairo that lets me ride every step of the way and I love that. I think I’m extra conscious of my equitation because she’s so little. Ironically, people who meet her in person who have only seen pictures are startled at how little she is — she rides big, even in photos.

The week after Rebecca, Kristine and went to Inavale to school some more xc. The one fence at Inavale I didn’t think I rode as thoughtfully as I could have was the “Novice trakhener,” aka the log over swale. It’s right next to the Training trakhener that I have fallen at several times and let’s just say I have issues with it. Cairo doesn’t. She sailed over the Novice one and when the time comes, she’s going to sail over the Training one.

Kristine suggested I see how Cairo did jumping off a bank into water. “Grab mane and just walk up to it,” she said. She’s been around Cairo enough to know Cairo’s pretty certain to jump and Cairo did. No problem. “Trot up to it,” Kristine said. So I did. And thank god I grabbed mane because Cairo basically hollered “Cannonball!” and karoomed into the water. Kristine said Cairo landed fix feet out. It was no small splash.

This weekend at my lesson with Kari, we were working on channeling some of that enthusiasm. We were jumping the day after a shoeing where we’d trimmed more than I’d expected — Cairo grew a lot of toe this month! As a result, I thought it would be a good idea to keep the jumps low and that worked well with what Kari had planned. She was incorporating some of the bodywork and physical therapy she’s been doing and basically had me first rotating my body at the canter in a two-point so I looked at Cairo’s tail (why yes, I AM trusting). We did that both directions and stretching both ways and Cairo seemed to like it and relax through her neck more. Jumping, Kari had me keep my hips neutral but rotate my core to the direction we were heading.

We did an exercise with placing poles and once we did it a couple times Cairo was like “Right I GET IT” and wanted to get rushy, which actually let us work on my body even more. Then we added in some fences on a diagonal and that’s when I remembered a clinic with Brian Sabo in which he told a kid who wasn’t steering all that great “Never point a loaded pony at a fence you don’t intend to shoot it over.” Cairo is incredibly keyed into where I’m looking — which explains why sometimes on xc she sights in on some very big fences — she feels me looking at them!

As I rotated my core left around a left corner I turned my head along with my core, essentially my hips were heading Cairo toward the fence, but my eyes were looking away; I was just keeping the fence in the corner of my eye, barely. Cairo cantered calmly to the base of the fence then kind of went “Oops” and hopped over it. She did the same off the right to an oxer (only she leaped the oxer like a scalded cat). I realized that because I wasn’t sighting in on the fences, she wasn’t either. She’s a good girl, so once we got there, she was happy to go over them, but you could tell she’d been waiting for me to tell her something. The next time I kept my torso turned but looked square at the fence a couple strides out. I felt Cairo key in on what I was looking at and we had a great fence.

I like both that she’s so keyed to me AND that when I don’t tell her anything, she’s smart enough to make a decision, and the decision is to go over it.

I’m still pondering what to do with what we figured out. My current take away is that this core stretching exercise is great for getting Cairo relaxed and me stretched, and that if I want to shoot my loaded pony over it, then look at it. In dressage the judges comment that we need more bend on the circles and I’m curious to see if stretching and rotating my core helps with that.

Double Clear XC at Rebecca

Two months ago I had butterflies the size of flying squirrels in my belly as I prepared to ride Cairo in our first horse trials over itty-bitty little starter fences. I was delighted when she didn’t make an attempt to jump out of the dressage arena. Now, only a short time later, we zoomed gleefully through a double clear cross country at the Event at Rebecca and judging from the photos, Cairo would merrily have jumped even higher.

We didn’t finish in the ribbons, but we finished happy and had good rides and a lot of fun, and I’m just blown away at how far my sassy little mare and I have come.


Hmmm, now to get her to have that same respect for the stadium fences.

Kristine and I got to Rebecca on Tuesday night and pulled in with the Polestar crew. Cairo was a gem. OK mostly. She trailered great — drinking, eating and pooping up a storm — the whole 11 or 12 hours it took us to get to Montana. She attempted to eat not only her hay but Tucker’s too and learned how to open the chest bar in the trailer.


Tucker is giving her a little side-eye here, but really put up with her antics with great patience.

Schooling Day

Wednesday morning Meika gave me a dressage lesson. To my horror, she handed me a dressage whip to hold parallel between my hands to help keep them up and level. I immediately had flashbacks to trainers past who used all kinds of “tricks” to “help” me while I rode horses that bucked, spun, charged and otherwise misbehaved. Because hell, if you can’t fix the naughty horse, at least you can work on the rider’s equitation, right?

Luckily, Meika’s goal was to actually fix the horse who needed me to be more even and up with hands, as well as my equitation, and it worked beautifully. Thanks to that and to Leslie’s schooling before I left, I got a 7 on rider position, which is the best I’ve had all season.

All the work we did to help Cairo stand up through the shoulder paid off — Meika thought she looked stronger than she had three weeks before at Inavale.

After dressage schooling, we course walked. The course at Rebecca is gorgeous and the  2’11” Novice fences looked solid but fun. From bird fences to a Western town where we jumped the hitching post, the course at Rebecca is lovely.


Cairo did give this osprey the hairy eyeball, but jumped it with no hesitation.


The Western town and


the Indian village were among the cool fences on course.

The day ended, like so many of the good ones at shows do, with whiskey sipping and good conversation.

Show Day

Thursday was our big show day. Rebecca is such a large show that it gets spread over more than the traditional three days, so some did dressage Thursday and the upper divisions competed dressage on Friday. The Novice folks did dressage AND cross country Thursday. My dressage was at 9:54 and I got up early for coffee and a course walk. All was well, hungry Cairo was chomping hay and slurping water and groomed to the nines, until I tried to braid her.

I have Raynaud’s syndrome, and between the cold day and my show nerves, my hands went numb. I was failing dismally at braiding with bloodless fingers when Meika dropped by to put a cool compass rose on Cairo’s butt. Thankfully, she and her working student Fieka stepped in and braided Cairo’s mane and gave her rump some decor.


(This is actually Tucker’s rump but you get the idea).

Our dressage was good … for us. Cairo had some lovely moments. And she had some “Mooo oom I’m sooooo bored of trotting 20 meter circle” moments. I think she might actually have sneered during our free walk. Her good moments gave me insight to what she can do in the future and her less-than-stellar head tosses and eye rolls led Meika to suggest that Little Miss Thing has gotten bored with dressage and we need to engage her speedy little mind more. Lateral work it is, Leslie told me when I got home and filled her in.

We got a 43.5 and slid into … not quite last place. I didn’t care (much), I just felt excited to be there and feel those good moments … also my xc was at 12:08 so I was more concerned with changing tack and clothes!

Kristine’s dressage was at my xc time, so Letty and another of Meika’s students, Susan, helped me school and they were great. I don’t know who asked “Is it time yet? Can I go NOW?” more often, me or Cairo. We hopped a couple fences and Cairo was ready.

XC was a blast. Cairo was quiet in the startbox and when they said “Go” she struck off into a confident canter to the first fence. I think I was grinning wildly by fence three (that would be the rolltop she’s soaring over in the first picture).

Coming to fence six, which was before a water obstacle she hesitated slightly — it looked at first like you were jumping into water — but she popped over it when I put my leg on. I landed slightly in a heap but Cairo merrily zoomed through the water and up the bank on the other side. I took a second to get oriented,and find fence seven, a ramp. She leaped over that and turned for eight, a little cabin in the trees. I didn’t steer quite how Meika told me to, which resulted in my getting whapped in the face a little by one of the trees. Duly noted: listen to your trainer.

Worried I’d lost a little time during my brain fart, I galloped her a little between the next fences. As it turns out, I was almost a minute under optimum time, so I don’t think I need to worry that I’m slow with Cairo’s big strides! She sloshed through water and happily leaped through the Western town and Indian village. She was still over-jumping at the end, as you can see by this picture of the second-to-last fence.


The last fence was a train — we jumped the log car while the Advanced riders would later jump the locomotive — and I am just smiling hugely as we sail over it, double clear and we moved up into 15th.


And I’ll finish the rest of Rebecca tomorrow — it’s time to get away from the computer and go ride Cairo!

Dressage prep

Leslie fit me in for a dressage lesson last night so we could work on those holes that came up at the schooling show Cairo and I went to.

Cairo has come such a long way. My first lesson with Leslie was when I was still trying the mare out and Cairo was not on her best behavior that day — she was tense and fighting me, and Leslie said something mild about perhaps I was a little tall for Cairo. (I suspect what she was thinking was “Oh hell no you are not buying this crazy animal.”)

As I said in an earlier post (and I reference in the name of this blog) when I was horse shopping, people said to get a horse that likes to canter. Cairo adores cantering. Trotting she finds beneath her. She’s actually not prone to jigging, which is nice. I suspect she doesn’t see the point in attempting an intermediary gait when she just wants to canter.

So the next lesson I hauled her over to Kari’s barn (which is where Leslie boards) and rode there.  Cairo remembered the LAST time we were there we jumped. She was like AWESOME, let’s GO.

You can imagine her disappointment  when she figured out it was a dressage lesson. She spent the whole lesson trying to leap into the canter. I spent the whole lesson on a 20 meter circle trying to keep her at a trot. We worked on loosening her base of the neck and getting her to relax. Then Leslie informed me I’d be trotting for the next two weeks. She very tactfully did not ask  “How long til your trial is over and you send the horse back?”

By the third lesson Cairo and were getting our flatwork groove on. It was still an uphill battle, with head tossing and tail swishing galore, but Leslie could see why I liked the little mare, so she wasn’t too horrified when I told her  I was buying her. That was late December.

I knew that while Cairo had some nice gaits in there under all that tension, it was going to take a while to get her to be at all dressagey. Becky warned me of that before I took her on — the mare’s athletic but if you’re shopping for a dressage horse, that’s not Cairo’s area of expertise.

Fast-forward to today when I realize that while Cairo and I are scoring in the upper 30s at the shows (that’s lower 60s in regular dressage), we are doing as well or better than Huey and I used to.

So I’m OK with heading to Rebecca with stuff to work on — I’m just excited we’re going! — because we’ve come so far so fast, but as I told Leslie, I’d like to go feeling like I did all I could to do well.

All the work to get Cairo to stand up through her shoulders last lesson paid off for this test, which has some sharper turns in it as you change directions across the middle. Leslie had us slow and half-halt before the corner, which helped.

We also worked on my position — feeling where my leg should be underneath me so that if Cairo’s tense, I don’t jam it forward but rather keep it where I can ask her to lift her back.

And we worked on my halts. When Kory and Flash had a crooked halt in their first test, I had her even her legs and hands. Boom, next test, a square halt. That didn’t work for Cairo. Making sure my seat was relaxed has helped the whole tap-dancing at the halt thing, but she still wasn’t square. What it was was the standing up through the shoulder thing. Leslie pointed out that Cairo leans more on her right shoulder and surmised that was affecting her halt. Next time down the center line I added extra right leg, and suddenly we got much straighter.

We finished off working on our walk. Cairo has a huge walk and overreach (to go with her huge canter stride,  she’s got a 16.3 hand canter on a 15.1 hand body Leslie says)  and if I keep it steady and don’t let it get hectic, I think we can get some decent scores there. We’ve gotten some 7s on our medium walk and I’m thinking given that 6 months ago she didn’t walk without tossing her head and shaking her booty, that’s pretty good!

This weekend I’m thinking a Saturday jump outdoors and a relaxing trail ride Sunday. I’ve already started packing!

What’s in a Name. And Coffee.

I was really excited to find out that the father of a girl who rode with Meika had taken some photos of Cairo and I at Inavale. Check out Lee Schaber’s pictures and videos at NWEventingAction — they are great.

Cairo looks like she’s pouncing in this one.


Becky named her Cairo, as I remember it, because when she was born she was reddish and hot. Becky has a thing for place names. In fact, I like to joke that the way I got Cairo was kind of like a girl who gets a crush on a guy … and then meets his brother and thinks the brother is WAY hotter. The same year Becky bred Cairo, she also bred Farallon (named for the Farallon Islands). Farallon’s mother is Cairo’s grandmother, and Farallon’s sire is Cairo’s grandsire’s half brother.

Right, it’s like a Southern picnic over at Becky’s place. Everybody is somebody’s cousin.

Cairo’s mother is ½ Irish draft (sire O’Leary’s Irish Diamond and HE is a Breyer model horse) and Cairo’s father is the racehorse Baquero. No one believes me that she’s got Irish draft in her. They look at me with this “Oh, sweetie, you got taken,” expression when I say she’s Irish sport horse. I think the name Cairo makes folks think she’s Arab, that and her little refined nose.

I rode Farallon last summer while I was having a really crappy day. Farallon looks much draftier than Cairo does, but is about the same height. Huey was on trial and I really wanted the possible buyers to love him and I was stressing about it. Work was having problems. Everything sucked.

Becky invited me over to ride and go swimming and I spent the weekend and I rode Farallon and was charmed. I knew she was probably out of my price range — Becky breeds really nice Irish horses and I was shopping with what I sold Huey for and a little savings — but I figured I would give it a shot. Becky was super nice about it but I wasn’t surprised to learn that Farallon was more than I had saved. But then she called the next day and suggested I try Cairo, who she said was more difficult and would be harder to sell, but she felt might be more athletic. Between injuring her leg, an abscess and Becky’s show schedule, Cairo hadn’t been doing much.

I liked Farallon. Cairo I loved. Her little green four-year-old canter was more balanced and athletic than the full grown trained horses I was trying. So yeah, I liked Farallon … then I met her sister. Beneath all that head tossing, tail swishing and scarred hind leg there was a cute little horse and I am in love with her.

At Inavale, realizing the fences there are a bit wild (zebras and flamingos anyone?), I decided I would take Cairo over near the stadium ring and graze her, so she could eye the fences from a distance. So go-cup of coffee in one hand and Cairo in the other I led her over. There were a couple other horses around, also grazing and, as it turns out, an evil scary golf cart.

Just as we walked up to the arena Cairo stopped, flung her head out and bulged her eyes at something behind me (the golf cart zipping by, on the other side of the ring, and half-hidden by a hill as I figured out later). She half reared and began to back up very, very fast.

I played out her lead rope, luckily avoiding a rope burn, and basically found myself being slowly, steadily, dragged across the field. I kept talking to her, trying to get her attention on me and not the evil, scary Thing behind me. As this went on I began to realize that while we were not running out of space, I was running out of lead rope. I weighed my options. Drop the rope? I didn’t see Cairo as a run back to the barn girl, I saw her as a race around the venue and party kind of girl, so that was out. Drop my coffee? Also not an option.

Luckily, Cairo is pretty smart and she finally simply stopped racing backward, looked at me and came forward to see if maybe I had a treat for her, like I usually do when I’m talking to her in my cajoling voice. I did. I even gently set my coffee down to get it out of my pocket.

Treat accepted, we walked back to the arena where several people, also grazing their horses, had watched the whole thing.

“Nice job not spilling your coffee!” one of them cheerfully called out.

I’m glad that no one got any photos of that.


From the beach to starter to Novice

A lot has happened since April! That’s blogger-speak for I’ve been a total slacker about updates.

Our beach trip was amazing. I went to Nehalem Bay State Park with Kristine, my best-eventing friend and by the end of the trip Cairo and I had our galloping on the beach dream come true. Well, mine anyway, but Cairo was game for it. I wrote about it for my job at the Eugene Weekly here.

Cairo and I canter along the shore.
Cairo and I canter along the shore.

Not that long after Cairo showed how lovely and brave she was about crashing waves, I took her to a little schooling show at Avalon in Cottage Grove where we did the 2’3″ classes at the end of May. I hadn’t jumped her over a course since October, but you couldn’t tell by her attitude. She was unfazed. I won the itty-bitty equitation (there were adults in the class, but as always, it’s the kids you have to beat). The fences were little but Cairo demonstrated her signature tail flip anyway.

Yes, that's her tail behind my head. Photo by Wildtree Farm
Yes, that’s her tail behind my head. Photo by Wildtree Farm

As we next got ready for our first event at Equestrian’s Institute (EI) at the end of May at the Washington State Horse Park I got a little nervous. OK, I got a lot nervous.  I hadn’t competed at a recognized show in a year. Our dressage needed work. One night in early May as I schooled alone in the arena I burst into tears because Cairo was just so tense.

And I worried too that my trainers were not going to see the potential I see in her. The more I thought about people judging her and me, the more tense I rode. Finally I realized first, that my trainers, while they might have had reservations about my buying Cairo, they are above all, supportive and helpful, and two, I bought her because I loved her so I needed to worry a little less about what other people thought.

Leslie Chapman, my dressage trainer, was incredibly helpful. We’ve been working on my tendency to brace my elbows against her, and getting Cairo to more and move pick up her topline and be on the bit. Leslie has these little fixes that make all the difference. I give with my seat and suddenly we have better halts. Leslie rides Q, her gelding she’s trained herself, in the grand prix, and after she rode Cairo for me on a weekend I was out of town, she told me she loved her canter. I was proud. Cairo’s head tossing is almost gone and her tail swishing is more … in rhythm.

EI was a blast. I entered starter (aka grasshopper) since Cairo had never jumped ditches before and had only done a couple cross-country fences . We got a less than awesome dressage score — a 51, but I didn’t care because I knew from the way she focused and listened that she was going to improve every time. I got ridiculously nervous about cross-country. The fences were adorable mini-versions of real eventing fences — most barely 2 feet high, and I still managed to feel sick to my stomach. Clearly I wasn’t quite over my last couple falls off of Huey at the last two shows I took him to.

Cairo was adorable. She loved the xc and we galloped the course easily, as you can tell from my grin below.

Cairo at EI
Cairo at EI

We had a great (little) stadium and finished in 7th. When we go out on course, she looks a little at the fences, but she’s all about doing her job, flying tail and all.

The photo is by Michele Stevens, who owns Cairo’s mom. Cairo’s uncle Loki was at the show, too. It was an Irish horse family reunion! Cairo squealed at and tried to kick her mom. Brat.

The day after the show, Kristine and I stopped at her cousin’s barn outside Portland so Cairo and I could school ditches. Cairo leaped the ditches bravely. No problem. We walked up, I grabbed mane, she popped over them. Ditches had been a battle for Huey and I — he learned them poorly and never quite got over it, and I had developed a tendency to tense up and stare down at them. Even when I kept my eyes up, Huey remembered the times I didn’t, and would sometimes spin away from the ditch at a coffin like it was a gateway to hell.

Last year was the first year I’ve ever been fearful on a horse. I’ve never been scared of jumping big; it’s always been my goal. Heck, Merlin and I jumped five foot oxers in the high jump contest. At three foot Huey happily zoomed around. But when the fences got bigger and the pressure was on, he got unhappy. He was sound (vetted just fine for his new owners), but I realized that forcing him to jump bigger was stressing him and scaring me. I didn’t trust him anymore and he didn’t trust me. He adores his new little girl and she is merrily jumping him and dressing him in cute costumes. I used the money to buy Cairo and alls well that ends well, but I started getting nerves and then I get upset that I get nerves because I never used to be that way.

To get ready for Aspen Horse Trials two weeks later at the beginning of June, I took Cairo back down to Avalon and schooled her over some slightly bigger fences (more like 2’7″ instead of 2 feet!) so we would be ready for Beginner Novice at Aspen.

I was a little less tense at Aspen — more show nerves than that icky fearful feeling. Our dressage was better — scoring closer to a 36. We had two rails in stadium that were my fault, not Cairo’s — I held her off the fences and forgot that despite her small size, she has a huge stride. But I was pleased at how she tried and how she listened. Cross-country was amazing. (I say that a lot about Cairo lately, amazing) and she galloped everything beautifully. We came in 10th.

After my xc, my trainer Meika cheerfully informed me that I ought to move Cairo right up to Novice. I blinked at her slowly. What? Meika is a lovely rider and is my hero because she’s competed at Rolex (and for other reasons as well) and if anyone knows what she’s talking about when it comes to eventing in the Northwest, it’s Meika.

Meika felt like keeping Cairo at BN would lead to me  holding her off the fences and Cairo not respecting them, and do more harm than good. So I entered Inavale at Novice and got some wine in me and entered my “goal” show — Rebecca Farm in Montana at the end of July.

Inavale HT here in Oregon was last weekend, and it was wonderful. We got a 38.3 in dressage. I stopped locking my elbows but apparently used my hands too much. She got 7s on her medium walks and I’m pretty sure when I figure out our free walk, it’s going to be amazing. I love that each time I feel like we get a little better, and each time I feel like I know what to do to improve. (Kristine got a nine on her trot down the center line at Training level, whoohoo!).

I walked the cross-country and felt some of those nerves coming back. I’ve fallen off three times at Inavale, twice at the Trakhener, and it has me spooked — not all Trakheners, the ones at other shows don’t bother me as much, but let’s face it, when you’ve been a jumper rider for 20 years, this log over ditch thing is weird and Inavale’s is downhill, which just makes it all the easier to stare down at it.

Meika and Kristine were funny and sweet. Kristine knows me well by now and knows when I get silent, I’m freaked. I had some silent moments on the course walk. Some of those fences looked big! Kristine had struggles of her own — Tucker had terrible hives at EI and she had to scratch stadium, and then at Aspen she got no sleep because Tucker was upset at his stabling situation off site, and then she had trouble in her stadium. She was great at Invale and rode like a total champ with an awesome clean cross country and just one rail stadium. She’s striving for the Training Three Day at Rebecca, and I’m crossing fingers we both get in.

Cairo and I did stadium Saturday, and that was actually helpful because I got over those bigger fences in the area where I’m more confident. Before going, I had a jump lesson with Karianne (who won two grand prix jumper classes in one week this past week because she’s talented and a really thinking rider and rocks the pink fashion). Kari is on the road a lot, so I’ve only had maybe five lessons on Cairo with her since I’ve owned her.

Stadium was a blast. Fence height was not an issue. Cairo and I had a rail because she looked at a fence and I held rather than pushed, but I really didn’t care — she jumped huge and she was super brave. We got three time faults. My theory is all her air time slowed us down.


Cross country was even better. I had so much fun and I think Cairo did too. She leaped over everything with room to spare and went double clear — even the Novice Trakhener.  Meika was totally right, we needed to go Novice.

We finished in 9th and I was over the moon with happiness over how fun she was.

Now we cross fingers that we get into Rebecca!




Demon Hussy

Demon hussy is what I call Cairo when she goes into heat and gets to be sassy-on-steroids. I rode her in the outdoor Monday evening and she bucked (which she never does) and spent the entire ride attempting to leap out from underneath me or just leap. The next couple nights we worked inside and she was slightly more chill. Slightly. Tonight we worked in the outdoor again and she started the session with a squeal and some overly expressive swishes of her tail.

Ironically, given I spent most of the ride trying to get her to give and use her topline instead of brace and try to leap into the canter, when we did transition up into the canter, her transitions were lovely.

One week until our first beach ride, I’m very excited. And one month until I move her to the same barn Flash is at and have both my horses in the same place for the first time in more than a year.

In media res, sort of, and always at the canter

At some point I’ll start more at the beginning, but for now, I’ll start with today and just a little background.

Cairo turned five on Monday, March 24 and I’m pretty darn sure she’s not going to grow much taller, but I really don’t care. When I began horse shopping, after painfully selling Baby Huey, my sweet and silly 16’3″ hand thoroughbred, people asked me what my dream horse was. I kept saying I didn’t care about height or gender or color, I just wanted a horse who though he could jump the moon. The most specific I got was thinking I’d like a draft cross or an Irish horse because Merlin, the horse I loved to jump, was an Irish draft and I loved his spirit and boldness.

These parameters, or lack of them are more of less how I wound up buying a sassy bay 15’1″ hand Irish sporthorse filly, who thinks she can jump the moon.

Cairo was bred by my friend Becky, and I used to watch Cairo’s dam, Ruby Contessa at events and point out how much I liked her. Because Becky is a good person and because Cairo is little and way too sassy, I lucked out and got Ruby’s baby for myself for Christmas.

My event trainer, Meika, told me something to look for in a jumper is a horse that likes to canter. Well, that’s Cairo. I think she’d rather canter than eat. When Meika met Cairo, she gave me her blessing, albeit with a furrowed brow and the caveat she had hoped I’d find myself an easier horse. Kari, my jumper trainer and Leslie, my dressage trainer had similar reactions. I’m lucky I ride with incredibly talented and incredibly supportive trainers.

Cairo is not easy. She tosses her head; she swishes her tail; she chomps the bit and demands we stop walking around and just CANTER. But at four she just felt so balanced and so bold, I loved her. Becky let me take her on trial and after a trip to the mountain trail course, a horse show and a group trail ride, all of which she did happily and boldly, I was sold.


She’s come a long way since October, when in our first dressage lesson all Leslie would let me do was trot on a circle because Cairo was such a wild thing. I tried her in a Micklem bridle and that helped the head tossing. When we started, she was avoiding the bit — tossing her head mouthing it, but never contacting it. Now in the Micklem and with a thin Herm Sprenger duo mullen mouth rubber bit, she’s wanting to grab the bit and strong-arm me into what she wants to do — canter. So today we worked on getting her to give up the bit. and pick up her back.

Certain words tend to resonate with me and today it was keeping my hands dynamic. Outside shoulder back, seat even in the saddle, open the inside rein, ask her to go deep, but not low, and give up the base of the neck, all the while keeping my hands dynamic. By the end of the ride, Cairo was releasing through her neck, picking up her back and reaching way under herself with her hind legs. One minute I’m cantering, and her head’s tossing and she’s up against the bit and the next minute, she uses herself and gets it. Then suddenly for three or four 20 meter circles she’s cantering and really using the muscles of her back to lift and rather than just cantering, we have a gait that feels relaxed and powerful. Now to just do that again my next ride without Leslie chiding me in that Texas accent of hers …