Where have all the Horsemen gone?

I hum this in my head to the tune of “Where have all the Cowboys gone” by Paula Cole at least once a week, and even moreso this last week as I worked the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

The leg man.

The horse whisperer.

The foaling guy.

The breaking girl.

The bread and butter of our industries, people who used to be revered and applauded. The cowboy you would send to get your horses broke, or the barn foreman who could feel a tendon strain weeks before an ultrasound would pick anything up.

The men and women whom we hear are missing from our vocal elders. Men like Denny Emerson and George Morris. Those who are willing to stick their neck out to the guillotine as they lament the good old days. Where riders were horsemen and women first and foremost and equitators second.

And this goes out to so many aspects of this equine industry.

I watch as the majority of my friends move off away from the barns of the Thoroughbred breeding industry. Men and women who I considered the good ones, who I considered the true horsemen, moving away from the daily chores of mucking and bandaging for the comfort of heated offices and 9-5’s. Christmas off and open toed shoes.

I lamented of this to a fellow farm manager last week during the sales when he asked about my manfriend and what his plans were. His plans? He planned to do what he was phenomenal at. Being a horseman.

Luke is a broodmare manager, and one of the best birth attendants I have ever seen in a foaling stall–and that is coming from me, someone who has her doctorate in equine reproduction.

Year in and year out, Luke is the first human face that these future champions see. He can reposition the worst dystocia, calm the most panicked mare, and assist the first steps of the most leggy foal. And I watch in appreciation of this greatness. This skill set. This mastery.

But this mastery will never make him millions. His job is one that is at best under-appreciated and at worst over worked. From January 1st until July, he works 100 hour weeks. A herd of broodmares and their progeny depend on him never sleeping in, never being ill, and never taking a personal day. It does not matter if there are 2 feet of snow on the ground or 100 degrees with 80% humidity-he is there.

I have seen him leave the house after cradling the porcelain gods, riddled with the flu. I have seen him put chains on his tires and haul a generator to the barn without electricity. And I have seen him miss weddings, funerals, births, and parties simply to give that foal a good chance at a great life.

But in exchange for this, the rewards are simple. He appreciates the first gutteral whinny of a filly and the first wobbly steps of a colt. He earns smiles as they accept their first bit and a pat on the back when they sell well. And occasionally, very occasionally, he gets a mention in an article if they win. 

It is not a lucrative lifestyle. It is not a comfortable existence. It is filled with constant sleep deprivation, long hot days and even colder nights. A phone permanently attached to your hip and truck keys in your fist.

Not many want to do it.

And because of that, few do. And fewer stick around.

But that is the problem. We are losing those fine men and women who are innately born with these gifts. The feel of a hot leg. The scent of impending parturition. The detection of a disgruntled stomach. 

And why? Because it’s undervalued.

These men and women are worth their weight in gold and grain, and yet they are often dismissed for someone cheaper, albeit less experienced. Or they are under appreciated and dismissed for their undying effort to keep their herds well, leaving them disgruntled and restless.

You look around the horse shows and see fewer and fewer of these select few to exist. You look around the yearling sales and see a similar predicament.

And it is not because we are not creating these magical creatures. No, no-they exist. But they are choosing to move off into other realms. They find those jobs in the comfy offices with weekends off. Weekends where they can compete themselves or watch their horses gallop across the wire from a covered box.

Photo by Vic’s Pics

Its the duality of the job. Those who love the creatures the most are found caring for those that they do not claim ownership of. 

I was one of them. I devoted my entire life to 30 mares and their progeny that I would never get to call my own.

And in exchange for my undying devotion, I never got to ride my own horse. I never had a weekend day off to compete my own horse. And at the end of the day, I couldn’t afford either. 

I sacrificed my own personal equestrianism in order to encompass and assist a larger herd. And it wore on me.

Photo by Holly M Smith

I loved being a farm manager. I loved being a horseman. I still work the sales, even now having finished my doctorate and being considered “above” the job of yearling showman. But I love reading those young horses too much. Getting into their brains and unlocking the chains. Figuring out how to make them walk better, stand better, behave better. It’s an addiction for a true horseman. An addiction that’s impossible to break.

But I left the role as farm manager because of the lifestyle-just like so many before me. I wanted to own my own horses. Have time to ride my own horses. Afford my own broodmare or racing stock.

I fear for these industries if this is the path we continue to head down. Dismissing those skilled horse whisperers and allowing them to run away and leave the cherished cement walls of the foaling barns and training tracks for a more comfortable existence.

I don’t know what the solution is, but a part of it is in celebrating the true horseman. Thanking them for their expertise. Praising them for a job well done. And acknowledging that without them, our industry will fail. Because I know where all of the horsemen have gone-away. And we’ll never get them back. Let’s keep the good ones we still have.


Have you thanked your horses breeder lately?

I walk up the show ring – back and forward, back and forward. Stand and pose.

 Wash, rinse, repeat.

It is the annual Keeneland September Yearling Sales, or as us thoroughbred officienados refer to it: The Marathon. 

18 days of 5-5. A hundred shows a day per horse. Millions of dollars sold, and hopefully millions of dollars earned.

And each time that I arrive on that first day, I have this wave of awe overcome me. I watch these 1000 pound yearlings tolerate so much with so little prep. There is no schooling show or warm up round.

They ship here to a new place–many times their first trip off of the farms they were born on. Happily loading on and off the scary trailer.

And they step out of their stalls for the that first day and run the gauntlet of what anyone would consider good horse behavior:

They stand for a bath in an unfamiliar place.

They accept the bit and a change of halter.

They lead to and from an environment they’ve never seen without putting a foot wrong.

And at the end of the day, they are happily bandaged and bedded down, waiting for the next.

I have long been a supporter of this magnificent breed known as the thoroughbred and am a hardcore advocate for retraining the ex racehorse. And when people ask me what I love so much about that journey, I always respond that it’s because it’s usually so easy.

The racehorse is so exposed by the time they get to you. They’ve seen numerous tracks, numerous riders, numerous routines, and numerous lifestyles. They have a lead change and 4 beautiful gaits–the least of which is the gallop. They travel both ways happily and take things in stride.

But even before they get to that first start, these animals are so trained. And why is that? That is because of the breeder, and maybe more importantly the broodmare manager, yearling manager, and plentiful staff that lays their hands on these horses every day.

After these pivotal few weeks the breeder gets much less press than is deserved. Occasionally they get the shout out in the TDN or DRF. And sure, if the horse runs in the Derby, there may be background story on NBC. It is short, it is brief, and the blurb is simply not enough.

But where the breeder does get the attention is potentially moreso in the negative ways that are undeserved. The entity that is the breeders gets blamed for the seeming abundance of thoroughbreds (crop size is down almost 40% since a decade ago). They get blamed when a horse is found in a bad situation, even if the horse has exchanged hands countless times since it left that pivotal homeplace. And they get blamed for the route of the horses life–from the nursery, to the sales, and then the track. Being told that it is too much, too quick, too careless.

So much of this animosity or targeted behavior is so unwarranted. So much of it is unfair.

But what is maybe more unfair is the lack of thanks that we give these men and women for the amazing horses that we now have access too, and the behavioral attributes that we relish so much. Things we take advantage of without considering where they originated.

Because of Mill Ridge, Mak loads on a trailer and happily stands for hours.

Because of Chesapeake Farm, Kennedy lowers his 18hh head and willingly accepts a bit and bridle.

Because of Shadowlawn Farm, Nixon happily ties and stands for an hour long bath.

And because of Hinkle Farms, I get to spend my September showing some of the classiest and well behaved young horses. Horses that put most fancy show ponies to shame.

We all need to thank those men and women a bit more often. Look on Equibase, find your horses origins, and then whisper a thank you into the universe. Each of them was mated with purpose, foaled with care, and then raised with the upmost consideration and thought. 

Your horses race trainer might have taught your horse to break from a gate. And your horses retrainer may have taught him how to jump a crossrail. But it was your horses breeder who gave your horse his first mint, taught him his first steps on a shank, and nurtured him through his first wound.

So thank them. They deserve it. Every single ounce of it.


For the record 

I walked off my XC course on Sunday and just shook my head. A grimace was plastered across my face, and my reins draped across my horses neck. Sweat dripped from his neck and mine, and I took one deep slow breath.

Because two jumps from the end, we had had a stop. And not just one stop, but two. 

Mak had never seen the duck pond at the Kentucky Horse Park, and yet at the Area 8 Championships, it had popped up on course. We had a log pile 1 stride to a severe decline into the boggy water. And the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey had deposited an additional 4″ to the bog.

We had cruised around the first 7/8ths of the course in harmony. It was our 4th event at training level, and our goals were finally starting to synchronize.

Photo by XPress Photos

It was less kicking and praying and more plotting and organizing.

It was less “let’s get through this” and more “let’s improve on our training.”

And it was less “finish on a number” and more “finish strong.”

And I thought we were.

Until my horse decided he was petrified of that bog, and I mentally watched that glaring TWENTY pop up in front of my cerebellum.

I circled back, tried to get him in front of my leg, popped him off his forehand and approached again.

And he stopped…again.

The twenty switched to sixty, and I felt my shoulders drop and my brain shut down. I was fully prepared for my horses first elimination in his 5 years of eventing, and contemplated simply retiring. He was legitimately scared of this obstacle in front of him, and rightfully so.

I almost raised my hand, and then quickly lowered it back down.

Because I realized something in that millisecond.

My horse was still young, and in a sense, green.

My riding was still improving, and I was by no means a professional.

And I needed to stop caring about the record and start caring about the progress.

Photo by Xpress Photos

I circled back one more time and achieved the canter I had wanted the first. I picked Mak up, wrapped his barrel with my legs, half halted 4 strides out, and DROVE.

And in 3, 2, 1 he lifted from the ground, popped over the log pile, took one stride to the water and cantered right through.

We popped over the last two fences in a strong gallop and then came back to the walk to cool out. 

Photo by Xpress Photos

And as I shook my head, trying to dissipate the grimace from my face, I saw my trainer Allie. And where I expected a similar expression on her own face, instead I saw a huge smile.

Because Allie told me that she finally saw me RIDE. She has watched my riding progress for the last 5 years and knows that when I panic, I PANIC. I go into the fetal position and lean, instead of sitting up and driving.

And yet this time, it was different. This time, my brain functioned like a true equestrian. She said she could see my thought process from 100 yards away and that it was awesome to finally see me think my way through a problem instead of growl.

And with those simple words, I realized that I had accomplished yet another goal of this year. 

My record might not be progressing, but my riding is.

And isn’t that why we are supposed to be in this game? 90% of us are out there competing as a hobby, and those 4’s and 40’s don’t effect anything but our brains and ego’s.

And yet this “hobby” is all consuming to so many. We live and die by it, and therefore we log onto our accounts on USEventing and grimace and sigh at those blemishes.

I jokingly said on Sunday night that I wish there was a comment box next to each event on my record. 

Next to our stop at the down bank 3 years ago I would write: “Rider developed strange phobia of down banks and halted willing horse.”

Next to our 12 jump faults from two years ago I would write: “Rider decided to enter horse into in and out at angle, and then epically failed.”

And next to this past weekend I would write: “Boggy water had actual swimming sharks, and after an initial appraisal, rider remembered how to ride and convinced horse to go swimming with them.”

Because that is how I feel right now. My horse was legitimately scared of something, and yet he trusted me enough to try it. It might have taken 2 circles and 45 seconds, but he did it. 

And we both grew from the experience. 

I know that the next time that damned bog is on course that Mak will be much more willing.

And I know that the next time I am faced with an issue like that that I will ride.

For the record, I am a better eventer than I give myself credit for.

For the record, I own a horse that is trying his heart out every time I saddle him.

For the record, I had a lot of fun this weekend even if my record looks like I should be frowning.

Because for the record, I’m done riding for my record.

Photo by Photography in Stride

The Dark Days

I was at the doctors this morning, and upon leaving I stopped at the front desk to schedule my next appointment, knowing that in 5 days my allergy testing were to be read.”

“Carleigh, we’ll see you next Tuesday, September 5th.”

My head snapped up. September 5th. THE September 5th. 

My dark day. 

I guess it is a sign of healing that I have been blissfully unaware of its approach. For 9 years now I have slowly become less intense in my await of its arrival. For 9 years now I have lessened the tears and increased the smiles.

I don’t remember the first anniversary. It was spent in a black out, enraged with the world and its living inhabitants. Not healthy; but I survived.

But I remember the second like it was yesterday. I had just moved to the namesake of this blog, Paris, Kentucky to be the yearling manager of Hinkle Farms. I had all of two friends who inhabited this tiny town with me: two guys named Luke and Dan.

And Luke texted me that morning and asked if I wanted to do anything. If I wanted a distraction or an adventure. But I had planned to make it my annual mission to be numb. To compartmentalize the pain instead of processing it, and I said no. 

I went to work at 6am. I hand walked a thousand yearlings. I curried hair until blisters arose on my palms. And then I returned home to sit on my couch and pour a drink.

But before I could even open the door of my truck, there was a man standing on the front porch. It was Luke, and he was holding a pizza and a case of beer. 

For hours we sat on my back porch and talked. Two newer friends, having only really known each other from the sales and the social scene of the industry.

But for hours I told him about my fathers life and death. Explaining the man he was and the woman he had made me be. 

And for hours Luke just sat there and listened. 

My emotions ranged from devastation and dry heaves to giggles rising up my throat as I described scenes of humor watching my father untangle fly rods and screaming at my mother to get his other flies.

I laughed. I cried. And maybe more importantly, I felt. 

And I stared across the porch at that friend and realized just how amazing of a man he was. How good of a friend he was.

That friendship quickly became much more, and for seven years now I have had him as my life partner. The most important person in my life.

And that is what I like to think of as this dark day approaches. Yes, there will be tears. And there will be anger. But as the years progress, and the sadness dissipates, there is also a lot of good.

Because of that loss in my life, I moved to Lexington, Kentucky.

Because of that loss in my life, I found therapy in horses.

Because of that loss in my life, I strengthened relationships with my mother and my siblings. 

Because of that loss in my life, I found renewed passion for my own. Leading me to an intense focus on everything from my career to my hobbies.

And because of that loss in my life, I realized how amazing of a man I had sitting across a tiny porch from me.

I used to say that I would do anything to get my dad back, and a large part of me still feels that way. But as I age, mature, and grow as a person, I begin to realize that there is truth in the saying that everything happens for a reason.

I am a stronger person because of what I have lost. I am a better person because of what I lost.

I wake up every morning and realize that life is a blessing, and that there is always happiness found if you search hard enough.

In a sunset.

In the cast of a fly on a stream.

In a good gallop over a massive table.

And in a slice of pizza and a beer with a good man. A good friend.

Those are the things I take away with me now. And those are the things that will get me through the dark days. I hope you have found yours.


In it to win it

I jumped around my first preliminary combined test yesterday. Of my life.

I never had the fancy horses, or the 4* trainer. I never had the clinics with DOC, or the winters at WEF.

But what I did have was a severe hatred of showing. A huge pressure to be perfect. And a crippling anxiety of people judging me.

This has held me back in a variety of things, the most obvious of which is my riding. One stop on XC would leave me reeling. Two rails in stadium would bring me into a rage. And if I scored over 40 in dressage? Well that was it, I was done.

Showing had never been fun, and therefore I didn’t show. Last summer I went to maybe 3 shows all together, and had a good experience at all but one. But that one E on my record would leave me up at night. I couldn’t get past it. It didn’t matter that the same horse scored a 20 in dressage at another show, or got me my first level scores for my bronze medal. All I could fixate on was the negative. 

And it wasn’t healthy.

So this spring, I made the decision to stop. To stop crippling myself with this anxiety. To stop worrying if people were watching or judging. To stop caring what they thought, or the color of the ribbon, and instead focus on goals that were obtainable.

I can’t control if the dressage judge didn’t like my horse, or better yet, all thoroughbreds. But I can control if my trot to canter transition actually occurs at F. I can’t control if the course designer is going to put in relatable distances that my horse can actually jump from. But I can control the canter from which he jumps. And I can’t control if the XC course is going to have a full coffin, or a drop into water, or a massive pool table that scares the bejesus out of me. But I can control whether or not I enter at the correct level for my training, and school the crap out of those questions ahead of time.

And most of all, I can control if it’s fun. I can control who I surround myself with. And I can control the report card of the day–as long as the goals are able to be measured by metrics.

Surround yourself with good people. Photo by JJ Sillman

I went into the combined test this weekend with simple goals, and commiserated of them with my friend Courtney in the weeks leading up to it. I wanted a steady and well mannered dressage. I wanted leg yields that were clean, and a halt that didn’t pull. I wanted Mak to jump from a rhythmic canter and show minimal hesitation at the 1.10m height. But maybe most importantly-I wanted to fit in.

I didn’t want to be in warm up and be “that person”. I didn’t want to have the horse in the meltdown, or be the rider who was obviously not at her level of capability. 

And Courtney wanted the same.

She was also moving up a level, taking her talented and yet ridiculously fiery mare to her first novice. She was also worried about if she was ready or if her mare would get through the day. And just like mine, her goals were simple. 

The diva herself. Photo by JJ Sillman.

She wanted a rideable dressage. She wanted to not clear out the warm up. She wanted her mare to respect the fences, and more importantly respect her. And she wanted to have a confidence building ride.

We talked a few days out and acknowledged that there were over 20 people in the divisions and we just laughed. We weren’t in this for a $3 ribbon. We were in it for the lessons it would teach on the current state of our training, and the homework it would send us home with. 

And with that, we loaded up and were off.

And we both made it through yesterday; ticking off the goals as they met us. 

Courtney got her mare loaded in under 5 minutes: ✔️

Courtney warmed up without a meltdown: ✔️

Courtney went into her test and had a calm, steady, and gorgeous Harper, even in the canter: ✔️

Carleigh got both horses to the show: ✔️

Carleigh remembered her preliminary dressage test: ✔️

Carleigh got Mak to do simple changes AND a rein back: ✔️

Carleigh got Mak to jump around a 3’6 course without a moments hesitation: ✔️

Carleigh got Mak to jump around a 3’6 course without a moments hesitation because she didn’t ride like a chicken shit: ✔️

And we walked back to the trailers and high-fived each other, acknowledging how successful we had been in our pursuit to conquer this list, and happy to have done it together.

We hadn’t checked the scores, and we honestly didn’t care. The divisions were massive, our ponies were green for the level, and yet our smiles were wide.

We untacked and cooled down. Iced and drank a water, and then went to pick up our tests. And as I walked to the show office, a fellow competitor told me that there was a ribbon. I looked up at her and congratulated her, and she laughed and said “no stupid–YOU have a ribbon.”

In confusion I smiled at her and kept walking, unsure of what she meant. Until I got to the show office and checked the scores.

I had finished 4th in my first ever preliminary combined test. On a dressage score of 32. I’m pretty sure there was bourbon in the judges Diet Coke, but I won’t complain. And then I looked higher. I had also finished 2nd in the training level combined test.

And maybe even cooler? Courtney had won her move up to Novice on a score of 27. Out of a huge division, with a double clean stadium to boot.

It had been a good day–in so many more ways than one.

And yet as we texted back and forward last night talking about our rides and sharing videos, neither one of us acknowledged the ribbons.

Because we couldn’t care less what color hung from our horses halters at the end of day. We wouldn’t care less if people were stalking the scores or disagreed with the judge. We only cared about our metricable success, and the goals we had not only accomplished-but conquered.

It’s not about the ribbons. It’s not about the judge. It’s about you and your horse, and the homework you’ve completed and the homework yet to be assigned. It’s about a beautiful August day surrounded by the best people.

And it’s about accomplishing your goals. The smallest, most minute, to the greatest and largest. Because that’s the only way to win it. And I’m in it to win it.


The Horse I Couldn’t Quit

Five years ago I took on an off the track thoroughbred with the idea that he would be an easy flip. Some quick cash. A safety net for my savings account.

Four and a half years ago I decided he was too much fun to sell right away. We would play for some time. He was such a joy to be around.

Mak as a 4yo at his first show. Photo by Chelsie Novak

Last summer, financially strapped and having difficulties with another unsellable horse, I made one of the toughest decisions of my life and loaded him on a trailer to Virginia. I cried myself to sleep that night after drinking an entire bottle of wine, but rationalized with myself that he had found an amazing home with a great kid, and would be fine.

Nineteen days later, I realized I had made the biggest mistake of my horse life. The perfect home wasn’t so perfect, and the little girl wasn’t the best match. He was unhappy, and was telling them in spades of his unhappiness. And this horse that I had always believed to be amateur and kid friendly was pronounced crazy. Herd bound. Tough. 

So after a few more tears were shed, Luke and I drove the 11 hours to Virginia and brought Mak home. We unloaded him back into his field that night and I stared out into the paddock in a turmoil of emotions.

Maybe I didn’t know my horse that well.

Maybe he wasn’t as easy as I, an experienced horseman, thought.

Maybe I had epically misjudged both him and my gut.

And maybe, just maybe, I had committed a huge disservice to him.

But still financially strapped and wondering how I would ever juggle the two horses, I put him back on the market. People would come and go, and yet every situation just didn’t feel right. I would make excuses to some, saying he just wouldn’t be a good fit. Or tell others that their budget, home, or lifestyle wouldn’t work. I ignored any email west of the Mississippi, and anyone who inquired about a young rider mount.

And then fall came, the market went dry, and I turned him out into his field.

In the spring, I pulled him back out and began to hack. We went to a few little jumper shows and bopped around, and then out of seemingly nowhere I finally made the decision that I was done.

Finding his mojo again.

The sale had nearly done me in, and the aftermath had devastated me. But my horse was telling me that our journey wasn’t over. And so in March, his ad came down and his entries went up. 

I set goals for my year that only a year ago I didn’t think were possible. I hadn’t thought Mak enjoyed himself as an eventer so I had listed him as a hunter. And yet with just a single XC school this spring, I realized how wrong I was. 

His ears were pricked, his stride was strong, and his eyes were happy. And I just knew that he was back. That we were back. 

Loving XC. Photo by XPress Photos

And then his happiness and stability was put to the test.

Because a few weeks ago, my friend Dan called me. A client of his was bringing his family to Lexington for the United States Pony Club Championships and didn’t want to haul his daughters mount in from Wyoming. Dan asked if I knew of a horse that a young teen would be safe on at 3′, and I hesitated.

Because I had thought I had just the horse, but his past experiences had brought me to this pause.

Was Mak safe for a kid? Last summer would say no.

Was Mak as amateur friendly as I thought, and a true kick ride? Last summer would indicate he had a stop in him.

And was Mak well mannered enough to survive a pony club rally where I couldn’t micromanage his every moment? Last summer would scream no.

And yet I sat down and came to the realization that last summer wasn’t a true indicator of his brain, or his ability. It was a single moment in time, with a bad match, and a bit of a meltdown. He hadn’t been happy, and he made it known.

But he was happy now, and therefore I said yes.

So Emma Reed arrived on Sunday night and immediately came from the airport to meet him. We tacked up, threw her up on him, and went into a 48 hour boot camp before rally started. She had her first walk, her first trot, and her first canter just days before the competition. We popped her over jumps, and with each one you could see her smile grow.

Emma’s first ride on Mak.

It was a great fit. And obviously the fit that was lacking just a year ago.

So I hauled Mak to the Kentucky Horse Park and handed him to this young lady; entrusting his care to her. For 4 days she would be his sole provider. For 4 days she couldn’t demand my help.

And he was perfect.

Emma went into the riding portion of her tethralon competition and threw down a foot perfect ride on a horse she had just met. Mak took the jumps beautifully in stride, but more importantly he handled the auxiliary aspects of the ride well. 

Emma had to dismount him, put down a split rail, walk Mak over it, and remount; all of which he took in stride. She had to jump a bank out of the arena and gallop up a steep hill to open and close a gate, which Mak definitely didn’t understand, but he performed regardless.

And she had to care for him as her own, which we all witnessed her do.

Some well deserved treats at the barn

And not only did Emma do that, but she also swam like a fish, shot like a sniper, and ran like a Usein Bolt.

And at the end of the week, we all got to watch as she accepted her blue ribbon proudly, having won her division at the USPC Championships–a goal so few get to accomplish.

And my pony was right there next to her the entire time.

After Emma left the ring, I received a few inquiries about Maks status. Mothers who wanted me to let their kids try him, or trainers who saw the safety and sanity which he exhibited, and I said no to all.

I’ve already been there; I’ve already done that.

And I know from experience that I can guarantee nothing. If I go bankrupt, I will find him a perfect home before I let any aspect of his care suffer. But I also know that I will sacrifice just about anything before I let that happen again. 

Because Mak has deserved it.

And I have learned that I just can’t quit him.

He was brought into my life for a reason, and he has lived up to that reason quite often. He is brave enough for me to enter my first ever combined test at the preliminary level in just a few weeks. He is safe enough to hand off to a young teen who he has never met for a weeklong competition. And he is happy enough to keep coming back for more.

And that is worth the trials and tribulations that we have encountered. He is with me now, and besides the loan outs and short leases to allow others to realize their dreams and boost their confidence, I don’t see that changing any time soon.


Everything will be ok…

I have a severe rash covering 80% of my body.

It’s been on me on and off since I was 13 years old. It stumped the dermatologists in my small town of Meadville, Pa and they sent me off to the Cleveland Clinic, hoping to get some answers and relieve me of my pain. 

When I was 13 it covered my arm pits, my face, and my neck. It appeared as hives, which turned into welts, and eventually opened up and were extremely painful and ghastly to look at.

They biopsied me, tested me for a million allergens, put me on prednisone (which made me vomit for two weeks) and finally gave up.

They sent me home and told me to spot test everything I interacted with. We eliminated anything fragranced (laundry detergent, deodorant, shampoo, perfume and lotion), found a make-up brand that didn’t make me break out (Almay), and became cognizant of bringing everything I needed every time we traveled. 

Occasionally, the rash would come back for no rhyme or reason. It was usually small, and it usually was resolved with some steroid cream and a few Benadryl.

Until last year. 

Last year my legs broke out. I went to the doctor and they diagnosed me with psoriasis. It was painfully horrendous all summer as it rubbed the back of my calves while I rode, and the back of my thighs when I sat. And then it got cool out, and it went away.

And I remember watching the commercials for shingles or psoriasis and thinking “Oh, c’mon. You’re that embarrassed by a little rash on your arms? It’s THAT big of a deal?”

Until this summer, when it came back with a punch. 

For the last month now, I have been miserable. The itching over powers every other sense in my body. I don’t enjoy food, I can’t focus at school, and I am constantly scratching any time possible. 

I get out of the shower in the morning and stare at my body as if it has betrayed me. My confidence is shot, and I’m embarrassed to be seen in almost any public outing.

My arms and legs are the worst, and yet it is July in Kentucky. With 90 degree days, I am usually forced into some form of outfit which reveals this horror. And people ask, or stare, wondering what would be wrong with me. 

I jokingly call it my leprosy, but a lepar I look. And I finally have full sympathy for those paid actors in those commercials.

I feel ugly. I feel miserable. I am miserable.

But for three glorious hours of the day, I am not.

For three glorious hours of the day, I am not judged for my looks or thinking of my rash.

I cover myself from head to toe in my breeches and a long sleeve shirt, zip up my tall boots, and head to the barn. 

I have three horses who demand my upmost attention. They demand that I focus on what is underneath my seat and not what is on my skin. And as I think to shift my right hip back to ask for haunches in, or my left rein back for half halt, I am completely focused on them.

No one cares if I’m covered in a rash. No one cares if I am packing on a few extra pounds. No on cares if I’m smiling or frowning, they just care that I am 100% with them and riding them to the best of my capabilities. 

And for three hours, my mind is on that, and not on me.

But this week, this ended. My rash had finally covered the entire surface area of my legs which lies on my saddle, and my three hours of bliss turned into three hours of agony. My mother just happened to call me during one of these rides and caught me in tears. My escape have become just another section of my prison.

So today I head to a specialist to try (yet again) to figure this out. My mother thinks I have Celiac’s Disease, my physician still says it’s psoriasis, the doctor at UTC calls it a bad case of poison ivy, and yet I am sure I suffer from an autoimmune disease like Lyme’s or Lupus.

But I’m interested to see what these doctors have to say. 

I hope to get some resolution. 

I hope to get some relief.

Because I want my confidence back. And more importantly I want those 3 hours back. I have come to realize that it is ok if I have gained 15 pounds as long as it isn’t hindering my riding. It is ok if my bank account reads $2.17 as long as I have enough to pay the board. And it is ok if I am covered head to toe in a blistering rash, as long as it doesn’t put me on the sidelines.

It has also made me appreciate every individuals struggle. If you were to see me at a show, you would think I am just fine. My jacket and my breeches hide the scars, and my smile hides the pain. I complain about it to my closest friends, but only a select few know how bad it has gotten. 

And that is ok. It is ok to pretend like everything is fine. It is ok to ride through the pain.

But I wanted to post this here because it is not ok for us as a society to let others believe that we are the only ones suffering. The only ones who have lost our confidence. The one ones who feel fat. The only ones who feel ugly.

I don’t feel awesome right now, but that is ok.

Because I have a team of great friends who let me vent, 3 fantastic ponies who let me ride them, and a doctor who will hopefully have some answers and provide some relief.

Wish me luck.