To be sound, to be happy, to be safe.

A few months ago, Larry’s owner Drew called me and said that he thought Larry wanted a job.  For those of you who haven’t followed along with this story, Larry’s is one of trials and tribulations in the most circular sense.

We had bred him at Chesapeake Farm, raised him up to the racetrack, but he was sold privately as a 4 year old.  After winning his maiden by 13 lengths as a three year old, he was considered a horse for the future, but as is this little world, that never really happened.  He did flourish into a graded stakes winning horse, but not until his 6yo year.

But that didn’t matter to me.  I never cared if he won a dollar or a million, I just wanted this gentle giant to be sound.  To be happy.  To be safe.

I would watch his races from my office computer and daydream of that same stride carrying me over cross country courses.  I would redo his bandages as he shipped to his next track, and think of the color of polo’s that I would place on him.  And as I walked up and down the lanes of the farm for his hand walks, I craved nothing more than throwing a leg over him and being on him instead of astride.

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Larry during a hand walk.


But instead of any of these things happening, I lost him.  I watched as he slipped between my fingers and into the grasp of people whom I did not know, and did not trust.  He was claimed, and claimed again, and I watched nervously as he fell the ranks on the track.  We (Drew and I) contacted every trainer and owner that we could track down, but none were receptive to the idea of retiring him.  He was a bread winner.  He might not be winning graded stakes races, but he hit the board in almost every start.  He paid his bills.  And because of this, he kept running.

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It wasn’t until the summer of 2014 that I started to get determined.  I began to demand retirement instead of ask.  I began to rummage through my resources and pound the pavement.

Because what the general public doesn’t see, or doesn’t realize, is that for every horse on the track, there are one, or two, or three previous owners, breeders, grooms, or managers with a big heart who loves them.  Who follows their every move.  Who would take them in a heart beat.

But it is not easy.  There is no database of email addresses and phone numbers to call owners.  You can call the stable office to contact a trainer, but many do not respond.  And even if you can finally get through to someone, it doesn’t mean that you can do anything more than speak politely to them and pray.

So pray we did.  And our prayers were finally answered.  

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Larry the day we got him retired

In September of 2014, I got him.  He was almost 9 years old, and had ran nearly 50 times.  He was shipped to the same farm where he was delivered into this world.  His shoes were pulled, and his nylon halter taken off.  He was turned out in a beautiful paddock at the Stallion Barn, and was allowed to just be A HORSE.

For 18 months, this has been his life.  He has been fed 3x/day, he has been trimmed and groomed, and he has been allowed to JUST BE.  He has gained 150 pounds, now standing at a staggering 17.3hh and 1450 pounds.  And he has been loved by all.

But his breeder knew that he wanted more.  That he was an athlete.  That he still had some good miles in him, so he contacted me and asked what I thought.

I knew that I couldn’t just give him to anyone.  That he was a graded stakes winner of almost $500,000 and that the same athleticism that carries a horse like that through the wire usually also equals HEAT and OPINIONS.  I had numerous people inquire about him, but the majority had red flags in their inquiries.  Refusing to give referrals, or asking the wrong questions, I feared for where he would end up if he didn’t go to the right home. And if I were the one to place him into a situation that ended up poorly, I would never be able to live with myself.

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Larry came home. Really.

But I found a solution to that, because I brought him home.  To me.  The owner of my barn had listened to my stories of Larry for over a year, and had heard me speak of his size, his athleticism, his extreme intelligence.  He reached out to me last week and asked if maybe he could have Larry.  If I would be willing to help him retrain this horse for dressage or jumpers, for fox hunting and cross country.  And of course, I said yes.

So Larry came home today.  I finally, truly, really got him.  He will be Jeff’s personal horse, but I will get to ride him, hug him, and see him every day.  And that brings me so much joy.

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Larry in his first ride as a sport horse

I don’t know if eight years ago I chose Larry, or if Larry chose me, but we are together again. Today I got to take him for his first real ride and it was everything I could ask for and more.  I don’t know where this journey will take us, I do not know if he will ever even enter a show.  But what I do know is that Larry is sound, he is happy, and he is most definitely safe.

And me?  Well, I am, finally, content.

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To be continued…

A fistful of mane, a prayer to the God’s, and a good partner

On October 2nd, 2007, my life came crashing down.  It seems so strange to think that this was almost 10 years ago.  A decade.  And yet some memories are so vivid from that day, while others are blacked out permanently.

I was a senior in college and the fall semester had just begun.  I was desperate to get into veterinary school, and knew that these last few grades were paramount.  Studying in a sterile room in the Johnson Hall of Science was my life, even on a sunny afternoon. And yet my phone kept ringing.  I hit ignore at first, seeing that it was my best friend Mindy.  But it rang again and again, and I finally answered.  She just wanted to know what I was up to, and if I was alone.  I remember shaking my head in exasperation, and telling her that of course I was alone, and of course I was busy. I had a biochem exam the next day, and I needed to study. She acknowledged my stress, hung up, and 10 seconds later my phone was ringing again, only this time it was my mom.

I answered in extreme frustration, not understanding that the next two minutes would alter my life for forever.  Rage turned towards fear, and anger towards tears.

My mom told me that my dad had cancer.

I can remember marching down the hall and into a lab full of perplexed freshman, grabbing my best friend, and pulling him into the hall way.  I remember sinking into the wall, and sliding down to the floor.  But I don’t remember anything else that my mom said.  I can remember the smell, the temperature, the cold hard tiles under my legs, but I don’t know what she said.

Like a horse who has a fight or flight mechanism, I became desperate to escape.  I began searching for my exit, and without rhyme or reason, I thought that ending the phone call would get me there.  So rapidly and swiftly, I told her that I had to go.

I now realize how well my mom knew me, because instead of telling me no, or getting upset with me, she just said, “OK Carleigh, have a good ride.”

I don’t remember driving to the barn, or how I got to my horses stall.  But I do remember the perplexed looks of fellow riders and boarders as I flung myself onto my horses back with a halter and a lead rope and fled.

I spent the next few hours with one leg on either side of my trusted thoroughbreds barrel, hitting ignore on numerous phone calls, and staring off into the distance.  I spoke out loud to Levi, reasoning with the world as to how my life was at this place, and asking for advice on how to handle it.  From a higher being, from the world around me, hell, even from my horse.  I had no idea how to cope with this assault to my senses, and wasn’t mature enough or prepared enough to handle it.

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But I knew I had two things to handle before I could process anymore:  that exam in biochemistry, and arranging for my horse to be cared for while I went home to deal with this.  And that meant that I would be unable to fly to fathers bedside as I wanted to.  That meant days of cloudiness, ignoring my true feelings, and the pain that comes with the unknown.  I spent my days on my horse and my evenings in the library, trying to use the therapy of one to weigh me down to reality for the other.

And during these long hours in the barn, I was reminded that there was a jumper show being hosted at the barn where I boarded.  With a $1500 round at the very end of the show.  It was at 3′-3’3 with the jump off 3″ higher.  I hadn’t jumped my thoroughbred in over 3 years, as we had just been hacking and playing, with him securely in retirement from eventing due to my own inadequacies and his extreme hatred of water.

But with this diagnosis came an extreme lack of caring.  I didn’t care if I had a rail.  I didn’t care if we got eliminated.  I didn’t care if the people around me mocked me or harassed me.  I just wanted to feel the adrenaline of a fence taken with your best friend.  The wind that hits your face as you soar over an oxer.  I wanted to feel alive, for the last few days had been consumed by nothing but the fear of death.

So on the day of the show, I walked into the barn and dusted off my Crosby and replaced my Billy Cook.  I found my open fronts and polished off the mildew.  I dug through my trailer to find my hunt coat and helmet, and I swung on.

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I warmed up Levi in a haze.  Not really knowing what to expect, or how this would end up.  But as I took one fence after another, I realized something.  Levi 100% had my back.  He was there for me 100% of the time. If I missed my distance, he would guide me.  If I didn’t turn quickly enough, he would angle for me.  If I didn’t keep my leg on, he would pack me down the line.  And for the first time in days, I finally smiled.

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We won that day.  From fence to fence, round to round, Levi held my hand.  We were the only pair out of 17 to go clean in both the round and the jump-off.  But more importantly, I learned that I could trust him.  That he would support me.  And he did exactly that for the next 11 months; the hardest 11 months of my life.

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And I tried to learn from this.  I tried to model myself after my horse.  I tried to step up to the plate.  To carry the weight of those loved ones around me that were weak.  To be a good friend and a great partner.  I left the barn that day with a kiss on his nose, and headed to Pittsburgh to sit vigil by my father’s bedside.  Only I didn’t show up lost and defeated.  No, I didn’t. Because Levi had taught me that the underdog can succeed.

That the odd’s can be stacked against you, and you can still triumph.  And he taught me that if all else fails, sometimes all you need is a fistful of mane, a prayer to the Gods, and a good friend.

The Fedorka Family Grand Slam

There is something about death that produces immortals.  When someone leaves you, you are no longer able to argue with them.  To resent them.  To remember their faults and inadequacies.  You put them on a pedestal.  A pedestal that rises and rises as the years go by.  My father is currently on that pedestal.

After I wrote my post about how us Fedorka’s encountered our own version of the Triple Crown this summer, I realized how little credit my mom received.  Was my father the champion of education?  And knowledge?  And good behavior?  Yes.  Was he the most humble, sweet, passionate, and friendly person you could ever meet?  Yes.  Did he charm my friends, becoming a father figure and friend to all of them?  Of course.

But was he perfect?  No.  And as the years have passed, we seem to forget this, or at least, ignore this. My father was a great  man.  A brilliant man.  But we fought.  We fought like cats and dogs.  And the one thing we fought about was horses.

And do you know who buffered those fights?  Who stood in my corner as my Rocky Balboa to my Adonis Creed?  My mother.  She was the equestrian.  She was the reason that we even had horses in our lives.  She was the defender of my passion.

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The camera and the horse, a true horseshow mom at Erie Hunt and Saddle Club

But for 6 years now, while we have immortalized our father, we have gotten to cohabitate with my mother.  She received the weight of the damaged family that we had become, and yet her 5’3 frame held on.  Her life has been anything but easy, her pain is extreme, and yet she remained a pillar for us.  A symbol of strength.  Of dignity.  Of greatness. She lifted us when we were weak, and slapped us down when we needed regulated.  She is our rock. And this gets overlooked simply because of the amazing man who left us.

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My mother bought us our first pony when I was 3.  Even against my father’s wishes, she championed this passion of hers.  She was a brilliant equestrian of her own right, having competed at the highest levels of equitation.

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My momma

She had taken a hiatus from her own passions to follow my father on his journey through medical school, residency, and fellowship, and then continued supporting him  by producing us three kids.  But with Nicholas finally in the world, and no more children on the way, we got Shana.  There are so many fewer pictures to show my mom’s absolute love for life, her children, and these horses, because she was always on the other end of the camera.  Just another fault that is portrayed in our adoration for our father.


Shana and the family

She continued to champion us in all of our endeavors, something that I didn’t understand as a teenager.  I resented my mom, and her lack of ability to come to my every show and every lesson.  We spent the majority of my high school years at war with each other.  I thought she was the reason for my every pain, and yet in retrospect, I realize she was the only reason I even had the escape and therapy of my horse. She made it to the shows that she did simply by ignoring her own passions and putting me above the other two children that she had brought into this world.  That should have been enough, but to a jealous and egotistical teenager, it wasn’t.

I blamed her for my inability to move up the levels.  I felt as though I was always compared to her as an equestrian, as we were still in “her neck of the woods”.  The trainers that I showed against had been my mother’s competition, and any lack of success on my part was always compared to her own personal victories.  I resented her.  I resented her skill level.  I resented the comparison.  And because of this resentment, I was downright nasty to her.  It wasn’t her fault that she had won an award that I couldn’t achieve.  It wasn’t her fault that people compared us.  But it hurt. And I took out this pain on her.


It took me a long time to get over this, and develop a relationship with my mom.  I have realized later in life that maybe my father left us to make room for this resolution.  My mom and I finally got over our issues after his death.  And maybe it was because of a shift in maturity, or maybe space between us as I moved away, possibly even the bond of absolute pain and devastation to join us together, but our relationship has only grown stronger as those fickle teenage years fall farther behind us.  She became less of a mother and more of a friend.  Something I never thought would happen.

I never realized how much my mom championed my riding until a few years ago when I called her in a panic over funds.  I had just started graduate school and was attempting to make the shift from full time farm manager into impoverished student.  Unknowing of this detour in my life, I had just gotten back into riding horses immediately before returning to student life, and was the happiest I had been since my father left our lives.  I told my mother that I was going to have to be a responsible adult and sell my horse, for I couldn’t afford to eat and feed my horse at the same time.  Sobbing on the phone, I was determined to be a big girl, but devastated by this loss as well. I hung up and began writing an ad for Mak, knowing that his sales price could pay for the next few years of living.

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My mom riding Mak, her “grandson”

My mom called me back 10 minutes later and quietly and calmly said that she had put $200 in my bank account.  And that she would continue to put $200 in my bank account every month for the next 6 months until the yearling sales started and I work off this deficit.  I was astonished.  I hadn’t asked her for money.  Suddenly my tears of grief turned to tears of joy.  I told her how much this meant to me, and she simply said, “Carleigh, I would rather pay for Mak’s board than the therapy you’ll need if you sell him.  Now go ride your horse.” And with that single phone conversation, I realized that my mom knew where my heart and soul lied more than anyone else.


I don’t write as much about my mom, because it is so much harder to vocalize your love for someone who is still living.  I think this has been the hardest thing that I have learned since my father’s death.  We can finally express our love, our grief, our anger, and our disappointment in any part of our relationship with him because he is not here to respond.  I was never able to say “I love you” to my father when he was alive, and his death taught me to never choke on those words again.  Saying those same things about someone living is much harder.  And because it is harder, or weird, or makes me awkward, I avoid it.  But that isn’t fair.

So if this summer was the Triple Crown for the Fedorka’s, something that I so desperately wished my father had been a part of, then my mom is The Breeder’s Cup Classic. She is the Champion runner, the Grand Slam.  And just as American Pharoah was the champion for a sport that so desperately needed resurrected, my mom has been the strongest, most uplifting person in my life for the past 6 years.  And I hope she knows that she’s carried this ride, but we’re in the homestretch, Mom.  We’re almost all the way around.  But we wouldn’t have gotten there without you.  We owe you for every step of this journey.  Every time we have stumbled and been encouraged on.  And every time that we thought we couldn’t keep going, and you jockeyed us on.  We love you, and we thank you.

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Minimizing your risk of barn fire


It is every farm and horse owners worst nightmare: a barn fire.  I woke up this morning to the reports that a barn at Old Friends Retirement Center was ablaze, and my heart sank.  I have never personally had to deal with this absolutely devastating event, but in the past few years, some of my dearest friends and loved ones have.  And while I would never wish this endeavor on my worst enemy, there has been some good in this desperation: they have learned of their mistakes, and have modified their barns, their homes, and their plans for how to deal with this event if it were ever to happen again.  Here are some of the things that they have learned:


One: Have your barn easily located:

One of my dear friends experienced this horrific event last winter, and they learned that the firetrucks were actually dispatched to the wrong location.  They were told that if it is at all possible, call 911 from a landline.  Cell phones are not always easily located, and if the caller leaves the scene before finishing his/her call, the location is even less specific.

This also means that your address to your farm should be easily seen from the road, and directions to the barn laid out well.  For the larger farms, especially here in Lexington, KY, this means that signs should be on the farms to help a stranger locate the specific barn and get their swiftly.

Two: Check your wiring:

Faulty wiring is one of the most common causes of barn fires in my experience, and this can be prevented.  Before moving into a new barn, have a certified electrician check the wiring and confirm that it is good, intact, and safe.  This doesn’t mean your maintenance crew, or your boyfriend, but an actual electrician.  This should be repeated annually, as wiring will age just like the rest of us.

Three: Fire extinguishers:

It should be common sense to have a fire extinguisher in your barn, but I still see many where they do not exist.  And just as importantly, have a fire extinguisher that is both up to date in certification, and ACCESSIBLE.  Many people place their fire extinguishers in their tack rooms, which tend to be the most central location in the barn.  Instead, have an extinguisher located at the entry ways to the barns – and ideally, ALL entryways.

Four: Lay out of the barn:

This is obviously something that cannot always be fixed, or changed, but in the ideal world – each stall would have dual exit points.  Doors that lead inwards to the aisle way and doors that lead out the back.  And if these stall doors do exist, make sure that they are operable and not blocked by bushes, snow, or machinery.  Make sure the hinges open easily, and that they aren’t painted shut.

In addition to this, parking tractors, trucks, and other equipment that contains gasoline or diesel adds an increased fire risk and should not be done.  This includes gas operated leaf blowers, weed whackers, and the such.  In the ideal world, there would be a maintenance shed or barn specifically for this equipment.

Five: Less electricity is more:

Those electric water buckets seem so useful in keeping your horses drinking water unfrozen, but adding numerous wires to your barn equals an added risk.  The same is said for fans.  And if you are willing to accept this risk, then at least minimize it.  Fans should be cleaned OFTEN, and water buckets wires inspected easily and often as well.  If you do have  numerous wires, try to combine them as safely and effectively as possible with a power strip, but don’t overload those as well.

Six: Don’t smoke in, near, or around the barn:

This should be common sense, and yet I still see fellow horsemen and competitors smoking around show barns, so lord knows they think it is acceptable at home as well.  Under NO CERTAIN TERMS should smoking be acceptable in your barn.  I don’t even think this needs added to, and yet, after seeing stupidity in broad daylight these past few months in regards to this topic, I will.

And if you do see someone smoking in the barns on show grounds, call them out.  Being polite, or being awestruck by a big name trainer, does not mean you cannot be safe. I don’t care if its the biggest name on the grounds, or if his clients think it is acceptable, it is NOT.

Seven:  Hay storage:

This covers a few things.  If you bale your own hay, make sure that it is completely dry before placing it in your barn.  And even if you don’t, be cognizant of your hay storage and location.  Ideally, hay should be kept separate from horses, but this isn’t always a possibility.  So if it isn’t, at least check hay constantly for wetness, and keep it as dry as possible.

Eight: Know the location of equipment that may be necessary in a fire:

Chances are that you will have a slim window to get horses and other animals out of a burning building, so you don’t want to be utilizing that time trying to find their halters and lead ropes, and turning on lights during a fire is even more dangerous.  Know exactly where the halters and lead ropes exist, and if they are not currently located in an easily accessible place, change that!

Nine: Speak with the fire department about the best fire prevention strategy for your current facility:

This encompasses many things, such as sprinkler systems and fire alarms.  My friend who lost her barn recently was told that the barn could have had a fire alarm that was connected to the interior of her house, which existed hundreds of feet away.  I never knew that was even an option.  My latest farm had a sprinkler system, but it hadn’t been checked or used in years, and in the winter, was most likely frozen.  If you do have a system in place such as these, make sure that they are functional and a help, not a hindrance.

Ten:  Have a plan:

Just like the fire drills in elementary school, know what you would do IF you were to ever get that call or wake up and see this disaster.  Do you know the easiest and safest way to get the horses out?  Do you have an emergency contact such as a neighbor to help?  Do you know the exact address of your barn and not just your home?  And are your horses trained and handleable enough to manage them in a state of shock?


Barn fires are my worst nightmare.  I have only ever had to deal with the aftermath of them, and hope that this remains true.  But just as with everything else, knowledge is power, and if knowledge can keep even one more farm owner or horse lover to go through this horrible event, it is worth it.

Please add any other ideas that you might have, or have been told, that would make these risks even lower!


Three cheers for the (professional) amateur rider

My alarm went off at 5:15am this morning, and as I drug a brush through my hair and threw food into my dog’s bowls, I began to wonder why it is that I do this?  While everyone else is enjoying a Sunday on the couch watching football, or doing a girls brunch with a mimosa, I am layering long underwear under my breeches in order to spend another frigid day at a winter schooling show.

I drove to the barn in the dark, slurping coffee and listening to sad country songs.  My high beams on, my truck and trailer the only rig on the back country roads to the barn.  And as the caffeine began to seep into my veins, I started to feel the same adrenaline and enthusiasm that come along with every other morning like this. The excitement over the possibility of the perfect round, the perfect test, the flawless transition, or maybe even the simplest happiness – like observing a horse putting equal weight on all legs. And I realized: THIS is why I do this.  Not for the fame, not for the money (HA), but simply for the love of the horse.

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Getting ready to show…

This weekend I went to a local hunter/jumper show, and realized that not everyone is like me.  Horses were warmed up by trainers, and handed off to competitors. Everyone had at least two people on the ground, and one to hold a crop or a blanket.  And smiles were not exchanged as we trotted past each other; everyone consumed by the drive to obtain that $3 ribbon.  It didn’t seem like many others were in it for the love, at least, not the love of the horse.

I knocked a rail in warm up and had to get off my 17hh horse to put it back up even though 10 people stood around the fence.  It was no big deal, rather a small inconvenience, in which I took the chance to tighten my girth and check my horses boots. But I asked someone about this phenomena, and she politely asked me who I was riding with, and where was my trainer?  Why did I not have someone to set my fence?  To hold my crop?  To cool out my horse?  I stared dumbfounded at her, wondering what happened to the horse showing world.  Where did the strong-willed, independent horseman go?  The person who worked 9-5 all week just in order to be able to show on the weekend.  The amateur.

And this got me to thinking.  I am surrounded by some pretty amazing men and ladies.  They are not only phenomenal riders, but more importantly, they are amazing horsemen.  And do you know what they all have in common?  They are all amateurs, like me, and yet devote their lives to these animals like professionals.

In my mind, these people are not any lesser of a horseman than a professional when I think of general animal health, or passion for the sport.  In fact, at times, I believe that they actually love it more.  They don’t have to be A Professional Rider to be The Most Professional Competitor.  And they certainly don’t have to have stars next to their names or money in their bank accounts to be accomplished horsemen.

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Supporting fellow competitors

These metaphorical professional amateurs are the first that I call when I need to ask for advice.  They are the first to lend a hand at a show.  They are the first person that I know I can count on after a bad ride or a bad day.  And they are the first I would reach out to if I ever needed help.  They are usually the first person at the barn, and the last to leave.  They are the one who knows that their horse is off three days before he takes a lame step.

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They are the Amy’s of the world, who braid everyone else’s horse just to afford to show her own.  Or the Sarah’s, who ride in the dark at 6am just in order to work full time to support her habit.  Or the Leah’s, who hauls other peoples horses to Aiken just to get to train with a big name trainer.  The Kelly’s, who wake up an hour early just to get her horse his second dose of SMZ’s.  And I guess, they are me, the person who shows yearlings, body clips racehorses, and pulls manes just to afford the two events that I get to do every year.

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Getting a little bit of help from my friends

You can usually find these people at the shows quite easily.  They are the ones smiling at their fellow competitors, whether they know them or not.  They are scurrying to their friends trailers, holding a horse or lending a hand.  They are sitting ringside at warm-up, giving thumb’s-up to their friends as they take a big over.  They are sprinting to the stall to grab a medical arm band or a crop.  And they are high fiving their “competition” as they leave the ring while entering themselves.

And why are they like this, these mutant show people of the world?  Well, its quite simple.  They’re like this because they actually love it.  Every. Single. Moment. Of. It.


Loving it

So at your next show, don’t look over at the lowly amateur, standing alone on the ringside, and judge her.  Realize that that person has sacrificed so much of her life to be able to stand by that arena.  And don’t think that just because she doesn’t have a famous last name, or is standing by a big name trainer, that she is any less than you.  In fact, maybe, just maybe, she might actually be the best.  The best at braiding a mane, the best at packing a trailer, the best at putting on a spider wrap, the best at pulling on a bell boot, and the best of all?  She might just become your biggest support system.  Your biggest ally.  Your biggest fan.  Your best friend.


So I ask all of us – lets not judge those amateurs.  No no.  Instead, lets give three big cheers to the most passionate people I know.  The ones that do it for the true love of the sport, and not the fame or the money.  Because, quite honestly. these people are the most (professional) riders that I know.



Six simple rules to buying your next thoroughbred

I have now been interviewed numerous times in the past few months about my current thoroughbred project, Called To Serve.  Moreso since the Retired Racehorse Project’s TB Makeover, where we won the Dressage discipline.  And each time, I am asked the same question:  Why Nixon?  What made you pick him? I usually answer with the same cliche sound bite – he is big, he is sound, he is young, and he is put together beautifully.


Big, pretty, sound, young

But so much more goes into my decision of which projects to take on and which projects to turn away.  So here are some things that you can do in order to assess if the horse that you are looking at is the right off the track thoroughbred for you:

  1.  Know your goals:

Are you going to Rolex?  Or do you want to simply mosey down a trail on the weekends?  Will you be working with a trainer?  Or do you consider yourself a trainer?  These questions are so imperative to know the answers to before you even begin your journey.  Are you personally prepared to transition a horse?  Or do you want one that will be “job ready” on your first ride? Because if you are not ready to manage at least a few of the quirks that tend to come with an off the track thoroughbred (i.e. a lack of standing still while mounting, or a horse who isn’t quite sure of what a flower box is), then maybe deterring from the entire process and shopping for an already retrained horse is right for you.


My goals


Your goals


2.  Do your homework:

There is so much information that can be obtained on these horses, and not just from the trainer or owner that you are talking to.  Let websites like Equibase become your best friend.  This is a free platform that is full of information.  And I don’t mean use this software in order to run away from horses who have had 99 starts.  In fact, I tend to think the opposite.  But education is empowering.  So empower yourself.  Be the best horse shopper that you can be!

See your horses race record – evaluate it thoroughly.  Are there large gaps of time where the horse has not raced?  Did the trainer tell you about that time?  Was it for a rehabbed tendon?  Or simply because they gave winter’s off.

This software, and the charts that come with it, can also tell you other information.  Like did your horse run on Lasix?  If he did, was it because he was a chronic bleeder?  Did your horse start running as a 2 year-old? Or a 4 year old?  Why?

This website also allows you to see auction information on your horse, which can be utilized in the proper hands.  Was your horse by Toccet and sold for $60,000 as a yearling in 2010?  He probably had clean radiographs and was put together well, as this was considered a good price for that sire.  But was your horse by Bernardini and sold in 2011 as a yearling for $30,000?  Then I would be skeptical of either his conformation or his radiographs/scope at the time.  And if he is now beautifully put together as a 5 year old, chances are, it was the radiographs.

NIxon art

One of the numerous pictures of Nixon in the news

And if your horse was a bigger racehorse (think stakes horse), you can probably even dig up stories about him/her on other websites such as the Daily Racing Form, Thoroughbred Daily Network, and The Bloodhorse.  These sites taught me things about Called To Serve on his training style, his quirks, and his running technique – invaluable information to me during his transition.

3.  Understand the world

There are so many things that will be different between evaluating a horse on the backside and evaluating a horse at a farm.  Know the questions that you want to ask the trainer/owner/manager ahead of time, and be prepared to ask those quickly and make sure you understand the answers.  Save yourself a trip by asking the majority of these ahead of time.

But also understand the lingo.  To the race world, 15.3hh means EXACTLY 63 INCHES.  Very few horses in the race world will ever be advertised as over 17hh, although these horses mysteriously grow once they jump a fence or two.  A “ridge” means you will probably have a more expensive surgery than a simple castration.  “Some maintenance” probably means more than some biotin in the feed.   And if the horse is still A HORSE at the age of 6, you have a high risk of that horse still carrying on with stallion-like tendencies even after castration. And hot, well, hot means hot.


Maybe not beginner friendly?

And while you might not be able to actually swing a leg over the horse if he is still located on the track, that does not mean that you cannot physically go lay an eye on him.  Watch him walk, watch him jog, and evaluate his personality. This is your best safety net.  Your own eyes.  Pictures are great, video’s are useful, but your own eyes, ears, and hands, are so, so, so much better.

4.  Don’t get fixated on pedigree, but use pedigree to your advantage

I hear all of the time that someone won’t buy a Storm Cat because they’re “mean” or an Unbridled’s Song because they’re “unsound” and while I agree that somewhere, somehow, something happened to start these rumors, there is a time and a place to listen, and a time and a place to ignore.  I personally own a horse who’s broodmare sire is Dynaformer, which automatically make people assume that he is tough – and this couldn’t be further from the truth.  He is the easiest horse I have ever worked with.

And while I love selecting horses based on a pedigree that tends to lean towards a turf horse, or pedigrees that tend to throw classic distances, I stray away from listening to the rumors about pedigree’s throwing attitude.  In my personal experience, attitude is affected by the mother that brought that foal into the world, and the people who have handled it from that day on.  The sire that never interacted with the specific foal has minimal effect. And trust me, even though Unbridled’s Song may have a reputation for soundness issues, if I were offered one who had ran 30 times and he passed a vetting, I wouldn’t hesitate to make an offer.

And again, use your horses pedigree to understand his sales prices, his race record, and his connections.  The more educated you are on these topics, the easier it will be to find the “type” of horse that you want to search for. Again, using Called to Serve as an example, I know that he sold for $290,000, and that he is by Afleet Alex. I could review Afleet Alex’s average yearling sales prices on websites such as The BloodHorse and find that his average colt price is $42,000 – again, letting me know that this horse that I am evaluating was considered exceptional even as a yearling.

Nixon TV Yearling 1

Called to Serve as a yearling.  Photo courtesy Matt Goins Photography


5.  Conformation, not confirmation.


An example of a prospect that I find appealing for a future in eventing.  Well placed neck, good shoulder angles, short coupled, and good ankles.

One of the most important things that I assess when choosing a project horse is conformation.  And this means more to me than just about any other variable besides soundness, although I feel the two go hand in hand.  I am asked constantly what I look for in conformation – so here are my rules: 

Ankles matter most.  Long upright ankles, or long relaxed ankles will make me turn down a horse that is otherwise perfect.  To me, the ankle takes the majority of stress in daily activity, and both laxativity or contractility of these tendons and ligaments will make me run.  The ankle, and the hoof, should be at an almost perfect 45* angle.

After ankles, I look at placement of the neck, and angle of the shoulder, but both of these are affected by again, my goals.  A horse with a poorly placed neck may not get to Rolex, but again, how many of us are heading that way?  My own personal event horse has a much lower set neck, and guess what – he is quite happily bebopping around training level with quite good dressage scores!


A lower set neck causing no problems

And finally, after neck and shoulder placement, I look at hocks.  Many horses may be beautifully put together from a profile, and yet have what I call “wobbly hocks”.  Hocks that seem to shake under the weight of the haunch upon movement, and appear “sickle hocked” or “cow hocked” upon closer examination.  To me, this indicates a weak hind end, and one that will struggle with propelling a horse up and over a fence.


6.  Vet the horse, vet the trainer, and vet your vet

And finally, after doing your homework, and asking the right questions, and watching the horse move, VET HIM.  And vet your vet.  Find a vet that you can trust, who also understands your goals and ambitions, and who is both realistic of those goals, as well as realistic about the horse that you are evaluating.  Are you buying your horse for resale?  Or for yourself?  Are you planning on using him for up-down lessons in 4 years?  Or running your first 2*?  Very few horses will have the “perfect vetting,”  but having a vet who can explain the blemishes to you in a sensical and descriptive way is critical.  Use your homework to know what all this vetting should it entail.  If he ran on Lasix, do a thorough assessment of his breathing.  If he had a year off for a suspensory, be prepared to ultrasound.


If all of this checks out, and you have done all of your homework, be respectful and mindful of the trainers, owners, and farm managers that you are interacting with as you journey through this adventure.  While each of these people want the best for their horses, this is not their primary career, and therefore what we perceive as a lack of information or strange behavior may simply be a lack of understanding.  Just as many of the sport horse trainers and industry members are lacking an education of the backside, many of the backside workers are uneducated on the workings of a show barn.

I truly believe that out of the 25,000 thoroughbreds born every year, there is a thoroughbred out there for everyone.  Hunters, jumpers, barrel racers, polo players, eventers, and trail riders alike.  This breed is unique in that we breed to race and we breed to sell, we breed sprinters and marathoners, turf and dirt, short and tall, for jump and for flat.


Big, tall, classical distances on dirt..

99% of these horses can, and will be, successful in a second career.  But the most critical part of this journey is that first second career.  That first person who takes them from the track, who evaluates them thoroughly, and then helps guide them into this new world.

And so therefore, be the best first person that you can be.  The one who gives that horse and his second career the best chance.  Because success can be measured in many ways – blue ribbons, money earned, silver platters. But the greatest success, at least to me, is seeing these horses who are bred to run as fast as the wind, suddenly turn on a dime, jump a wall, and canter gracefully across an arena.

104-1_7277 MSTC 2014



Gambling on life…

I woke up this morning and sat down with my cup of coffee (lightly sugared) to catch up on the news while my dogs ate their breakfast.  It is my daily “down time” and I relish in it, savoring every last minute and every last drop.

As I was sipping on my steaming hot coffee, I heard the news anchors begin to speak of the lottery, and how the Jackpot was the highest it has ever been – at $700 million dollars.  I began to visualize what I would do if I won that much money, and was astonished to realize that my taste wasn’t that expensive.  Things like a new truck, as mine is on its last dying miles.  A new blanket for my (very) large horse, as he is currently borrowing his brothers.  Entry fees for all of those events of 2016 that I currently can’t afford. The list was long, but the majority was simple.  Things that most American’s, or at least those who own horses, would also have.  There was no Aston Martin.  No island in the Caribbean.  No private jet.

In fact, there was almost nothing elaborate….well, except, for a farm.  Because if I won $700 million dollars tomorrow, that first thing that I would purchase would be a farm.  The farm of my dreams.  The farm of my significant others dreams.  Luke and I have been sending each other links to farms for sale for the entirety of our 5 years together.  Always with the message of “look at this one” or “this one isn’t too much.”  And by too much, we mean $1,100,000 for 200 acres.  The monopoly money of our dreams.

The farms that we send are not ornate.  In fact, they are usually run down and in need of some elbow grease.  We look for good land, solid structures, and a smaller house.  The usual one is overgrown with weeds, with some fencing down.  The shutters falling off of the home, the stall doors no  longer on the hinges.  Because we know two things – that this is the only way we will ever afford one, and that between his extreme intelligence of mechanics and maintenance, and my strong desire to work my ass off for this, we will get it done.


But two things stop us: Money. And fear.


I was at a KENA (Kentucky Equine Networking Association) meeting a few weeks ago, when I heard a man speak of what makes a small business successful. He said that the two most imperative things that a small business needs to survive are a) to have a business plan, and b) enough capital to survive two years.

While hearing him talk, I fidgeted in my seat; literally feeling a fire be lit under my ass, and I raised my hand.  I told him that my partner and I had a hell of a business plan, but that we were lacking the capital.  I asked him how he advised that we raise it.  How we expected to survive two years building a farm in an industry that runs on millions, not hundreds. He laughed and asked me what my business plan was, and what made me unique.

So I had to answer, and think of what in fact did make us unique?

Luke is a genius.  The person that so many of our fellow farm managers and friends call to repair a tractor, or evaluate a field.  He has foaled thousands of mares, able to reposition the most extreme dystocia.  I watch in awe as he survey’s a farm, knowing what needs to be done to this field or that.  Knowing how to rotate the horses, bale hay, and still have the paddocks looking pristine.  He is the numbers man.  The one that knows how to scrimp on this, and spend on that.  Making the pennies stretch out, and using elbow grease in replacement of the money.  And on top of that all, he has the softest hands I’ve seen on the end of a shank; able to show the most difficult of horses.


Luke doing night checks

And I am the yin to his yang.  Where he understands mechanics, I understand science.  I want nothing more than to spend my days in the barn with the yearlings, tweaking their nutrition and exercise plan this way or that. Getting their coats to look just right.  The repositioning of fat to muscle.


Overseeing prep is difficult for the short people

And on top of my love of yearlings, and the sales, I am getting my doctorate in equine reproduction.  The last four years of my life have been spent studying infertility in mares.  What I call persistent endometritis, but the general farm manager calls “the dirty ones” or “the pain in my ass.”  I have the knowledge, the education, and now the hands-on experience of getting these mares healthy and fertile again.  Something not many can claim.

And what sets us apart, even beyond this?  We understand the industry as a whole.  We are capable of getting mares pregnant, keeping them pregnant, foaling viable foals, raising successful sales yearlings as well as racehorses, and then when the time comes, we are successful at retraining them for second careers and long, happy lives.  It is a cyclical thing in our minds.

Amy 8

A successful transition to a second career

But the cycle costs so much just to get jump started. And for years now, we have been doing it under the umbrella of others money, others gamble.

We complement each other so well.  He sees the broad picture, I see the details.  He can repair a tractor, while I would rather bandage a leg.  He loves the mares and foals, while I enjoy the yearlings and the stallions.  And yet both of us are driven.  Both of us understand the 90+ hour weeks.  Both of us are used to the long days and longer nights – although he does look better than me after an all-nighter!

But we both have also witnessed friends and fellow horsemen fail.  We tell each other that we almost know too much.  We know how much a tractor, a spreader, and a batwing cost.  We know how hard it is to get clients into your stalls, and then to actually get the clients that pay.  We know how difficult it is on relationships, families, and children when the parents devote their lives to a farm and not to a home.  But we want it.  We want it so badly.

Unfortunately, for now, it is just a figment of our imagination.  An idea that we pray will become a reality.  Pennies are being saved, connections are being made, and yet it still feels so far away.  So maybe, just maybe, we will have to begin to gamble.  We agreed to go buy lottery tickets to that Jackpot last night, beginning our gambling ways.  But we know that this will be something that requires a much larger jump, a much larger bet.

But what is the hardest thing to gamble on?  The money in your bank?  The roof over your head?  Or maybe, just maybe, it is yourself.


Being a woman in a mans world…

I just got done reading Steve Haskins piece on women in the industry. My first reaction upon reading the headline was a resounding “YES!! Finally!!” And then I started to think. About what his story said, but more importantly about what his story didn’t say.

Are there women making up a large portion of our audience? Yes. Thousands upon thousands of our followers, viewers, and race goers are women.  And like Mr. Haskin said, they are brought to the races because of one thing and one thing only – a love of the horse.  This love is empowering for us, but it is also our greatest downfall.  Because these same people are the ones who read on social media of all of the horror stories which get written about our beloved industry, and just as they could become our greatest fans, they quickly become our greatest threat.  They become the naysayers, the loathers, the club that quickly hits “share” before looking into the facts.

And as Mr. Haskin states, there are a select few who get to the elite positions within the industry. But the keywords here are, select few. Does that mean that many don’t try? Of course not.  Thousands of women have worked within the industry.  And some do rise to the top.  But in the Sport of Kings, it quickly becomes apparent that many of the Queens are simply treated as pawns.

I was one of them. I got into the industry as a groom. I quickly moved up to a management position, based simply on a hard work ethic and a high intelligence. I was willing to learn, but more importantly I was willing to do anything. Show up for the vet an hour ahead of time without being paid?  Sure. Cancel a dinner date with my boyfriend so that I could ride in the trailer with a mare to the breeding shed?  Definitely. And work my ass off cleaning stalls just to prove a point that I could keep up with the boys? Every day.


That got me to a management position, but it wasn’t easy. I was told by some farms that they wouldn’t even hire a girl. That they would rather discriminate against a woman, instead of “control” or “deal with” their men. These men who obviously couldn’t be forced to behave in the social norm, to respect women, and treat them as equals.  Because in this archaic industry, many men still thought that the social norm was to treat women as second class citizens.  In fact, in 2016, the social norm is still to treat women as second class citizens.  It is not just our industry, it is sadly the way of the world!

I was lucky, that I found one of the farms that would give me a chance.  But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses in the position. I dealt with men daily who didn’t respect having a woman in charge.

I remember having a bloodstock agent come out one day while my mother was visiting. The showing of the yearlings didn’t go well and tensions were high. One of the girls that worked on the farm walked into the barn and in defeat said that she was just wanted to cry. My mother sternly and firmly reprimanded her. She said “don’t you dare, not when my daughter has spent the last 18 months convincing these men that girls weren’t going to cry at the drop of a hat!”  I realized that day, that my mom knew exactly how hard it was for me in this world.

Or the time that I worked the sales for my boyfriends consignment. We were getting a big colt ready for the ring, when a neighboring consignor walked up and asked who was taking him. My boyfriend pointed at me with a confused look on his face. But I was used to this. I was used to the men assuming that women handled fillies and boys handled colts. I don’t think that my boyfriend believed me when I came home and told him of the sexism that ran rampant throughout the industry. I remember that day the man laughing, and saying “no, seriously, who is taking the colt?”

I knew not to react, and I knew not to lose my temper. I was just as capable of a handler as any of the men around us. I also knew that there were many girls who thought that they were better horseman than they actually were. But there are also plenty of men who believed the same. I had worked the sales with many consignors, many showman, and in many places.

And do you know who the first person would be that I would hire for my own consignment? A tiny 5’1 blonde 24-year-old who weighs less than 110 pounds, Ashley Bradshaw. I worked one single sale with her, and was able to put aside my own ego, and just simply watch and learn. She might’ve been younger than me, she might’ve been smaller than me, but she was better.

I watched large colts, just melting in her hands. Colts who had previously been savaging the men, practically fall asleep on the end of her shank. I learned that day, that neither sex, nor size, nor strength mattered, when you were working with horses. Confidence, good hands, and a good head do.

But our industry as a whole isn’t there yet. Steve Haskin mentioned the two or three women who are doing amazing in each field– Maggi and Rosie, Linda Rice and Amy Zimmerman. But he never mentioned a farm manager. And I know, I know, we would all be quick to say Sandy Hatfield. The only female stallion manager I know. The only female to ever win Farm Manager of the Year. I respect her. I wanted to be her. But again, she is only one.

Mr. Haskin states that the women get involved because they grew up around horses. To me, this means that they should be MORE capable in the hands-on positions within the industry. In the groom, the showman, the manager. But they are not accepted as such.  Instead, they are placed in the positions of nightwatch, office staff, assistant.  And are those positions still highly necessary and well respected?  Of course.  I am not trying to take away anything from them.  But they are not the general manager, or even the broodmare or yearling manager.

So many of my friends within the industry are women, and so many of them WERE in those management positions, or capable of getting there. But they don’t last.  They go into an office position, or work in bloodstock, or worse, leave the industry entirely.

And is a large part of this because most women don’t want it? Sure. I don’t know many people in general who want the 90+ hour work week, the lack of sleep, the full dedication to ones job. It is a dirty, long, thankless position. One that only receives recognition by the animals with which it cares for.  But these same variables weigh heavily on a mans mind as he makes the leap into farm life.


So I think that there are more reasons. The industry is still skewed heavily towards the man. It is still unbelieving that a woman can do the same job. Women still make less money for the same position that a man holds.  And women are still hesitant to give up their lives, their hobbies, and their families, just to be placed in a job where they are constantly questioned of their ability.

And this needs to change. Because if you polled 100 men and 100 woman, I can guarantee there will be a higher percentage of women who would sacrifice their lives for the chance to work with horses.  These same women who would devote their lives to the industry that we all love.  But so many of them are being pulled away by a career with more money, fewer hours, and more respect.  A career that can afford them their own personal horses and a retirement plan.  A career that gives maternity leave and overtime.

And many of these women are reading on social media of the “atrocities” of the thoroughbred industry, and they are the first to be swayed by the stories on Facebook and twitter.  These women who love their horses also fear for the safety and wellbeing of the thoroughbred and are quick to share a story, whether it be true or not.  These women who are capable of standing on the platform of the industry and speak of the truths and greatness of our fellow horsemen, are also capable of standing on a soapbox and fill the minds of their friends and followers with the negative stories, with the PETA lies, and the nursemare untruths.

So will women keep the industry alive?  I wish I could say that I believe so. But more certainly, I hope so.  I know so many women who are capable of leading the way, but who are on their last few laps of trying to break the walls down for the thousands behind them.  I gave up.  I went back to school.  I broke under the pressure.  But there are girls who are stronger then me who might just do it.  But they need help.

So in reference to Mr. Haskin’s National Velvet, these women do in fact have their Pi, and now they just need their Mi Taylor.  They need that man who believes in them, who opens the door for them when they knock, and who pushes them to succeed.  The man who said:

Some day you’ll learn that greatness is only the seizing of opportunity – clutching with your bare hands ’til the knuckles show white

So be that industry.  Give the women that opportunity.  Because trust me, the women I know, will clutch it until their knuckles turn white.



How do you measure a year?

“525,600 minutes. 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes. How do you measure, measure a year?”

These lyrics sang in the Broadway musical “Rent” have been weighing heavily on my mind. Tis the season for everybody to begin to speak of their year, telling of triumphs, and failures. Victories, and setbacks. Statuses of show records, and levels competed. Claiming to change their strategy for next year.

They’re also the lyrics that were sang at my father’s funeral.

In the horse business, our victories are measured on an infantismal scale. The statuses that I keep seeing speak of three dollar ribbons, double clears, and qualifications to the next expensive show. 13 years ago, My statuses would’ve been the same. I was in the rat race, consumed by drive to get to the next level, the next championship, the next big show.

But then I burned out. Just as I see so many young girls do today. At 17 I retired. In the only way a youth amateur rider can. I hung up my safety vest. I turned my horse out. And defeated, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t compete again. At least not for a while.

So here we are at the end of 2015, a time when we’re supposed to look back in retrospect, and decide whether or not we were a success or a failure. My year was, quite simply, bipolar. The winter was harsh, the spring was short, and my show season nonexistent. My fall was my only true season of success.

I came in with a bang. Entering one of the first events of the season in Kentucky, I successfully ran around my first training. But having nursed a puncture wound for weeks prior to the event, I decided to have it radiographed a few days after. What we found devastated me. My horses left hind splint bone was in four pieces, and would need to be removed. My summer was over, at least for Mak. It would be spent with bandage changes, IV antibiotic’s, and if we were lucky, a slow and steady process of getting him back in shape.

2015 was over.

But, I thought luckily, only two weeks before this, I had brought a new young thoroughbred home. With the idea of doing the RRP thoroughbred makeover, I had gotten him in the hopes of eventing him as well. This was the best case scenario. Mak would be finishing his summer, just as Nixon would begin his. But as I have now learned is Nixon’s way, he had other ideas.

I spent all of May, June, July, and most of August exasperated. I didn’t get to do a single horse show. I also didn’t get to have very much fun. Because for me it’s not the horse shows or the events that make this fun. I didn’t even enjoy riding on a daily basis. He was, quite simply, tough.  Tougher than any horse I had ridden.  I thought I would actually have to admit trainer’s defeat with this one.  But because this is the horse world, I was more scared of what others would think if I gave up than what would happen if I didn’t.  Another failure of 2015.  A mental failure.

But a success?  Having cut out the toxic friendships, I was finally surrounded by those who encouraged me to continue on.  Even if failure was at the end of the tunnel, they convinced me to put every last drop of try into this horse.


Nixon in the summer.  Photo by JJ Silliman.

I got to finally rectify this with Nixon in October, by getting to do back to back shows at the Kentucky horse Park. We won both.

So in my synopsis of 2015, that is what should read. Move up to training level – check. Win a combined test – check. Win a nationwide competition on thoroughbred retraining – check.


But of course being an horseman, I am a perfectionist. I might’ve had three amazing weekends, but that leaves 49 that I didn’t. That is how the Facebook statuses read.  Because we are horsemen.  And even when we have experienced the highest of highs, we still fixate on the lows.


I was recently interviewed for a television show that will be featured on RideTV. The woman interviewing me, Jane, asked me if I had any words of wisdom or a specific mentality that got me through the tough times. I thought for a moment, and then I remembered a saying that my parents had hung up in our home.

“The worst day of fishing, is better than the best day at work.”

This is how I feel about horse showing. I can’t afford to compete every weekend like some. But I can afford to compete a few times. I can’t afford to board my horses at an elite fancy farm. But I can afford to own a horse. And I can’t afford to have the latest style or trend adorning me. But I look pretty darn good in hand-me-downs. And the worst day of showing a horse, isn’t a bad day. Let’s be honest, we’re living every little girls dream. We have ponies. Do you think the little girls care if your pony is going prelim? No. Why? Because it’s a pony.

Let us remember that when we get hard on ourselves.  We are the few that got to live out those childhood dreams.  We still have those ponies.


Childhood dreams

So this year, 2015, lets all take a moment to reflect not on the competitions, not on the levels, not on the three dollar ribbons. Instead, may you reflect on that one dressage school where your horse finally leg yielded. Or that time a 4* rider told you he thought your horse was “the one,” even after your horse took off with you over a crossrail. That cross country lesson with your trainer, where she smiled and said how much you’ve improved. That moment, when your vet becomes more than a vet and shows up on show day just to feed you. Or the show that you didn’t get off of the wait list for, but where you got to watch your dear friend cross the finish flags of her first BN in 15 years, a smile plastered on her face.

And that day, when the man who works at the stable that you board at, who rarely speaks a word, tells you that you deserved to win. He says, in broken English, that you work harder than anyone he has ever seen.

Those are some of my 525,600 minutes. And that’s how I’ll treasure this year.

12 Days of Christmas


I have contemplated writing a blog to summarize the year, but the words have failed me.  2015 was full of the highest of highs (winning RRP, finally going training level) to the lowest of lows (Mak fracturing his leg, a bad fall on Nixon) and its just hard to summarize the bipolar emotions.  But I started posting some 12 day’s of Christmas on my Facebook, and with some encouragement by some good friends, realize that this is the perfect way to summarize my year.


On the 12th day of Christmas (2015), my true loves (Frank, Mak, and Nixon) gave to me:

12 boards a-broken

Christmas 6
11 antibiotics given
10 events a-missing

Christmas 5
9 trot sets gasping

Christmas 7
8 burrs detangling

Christmas 10
7 rails a-knocking

CHristmas 4
6 shoes for pulling
5 abscesses BLOWN, DUH DUN DUN DUN

4 new tires

Christmas 9
3 horse shows

Christmas 8
2 that I placed in


And 1 training level event without an E!



Thank you all for supporting this blog, and may you and yours (2 and 4 legged) have a VERY Merry Christmas!

Christmas 1


A windy path to a unique career

“So when you graduate, you’ll be a vet?”


I am now in the 3rd year of my doctoral degree at the University of Kentucky.  One of the only programs which offers a masters and doctorate in Veterinary Sciences, I started this program in an odd turn of events.  The majority of the students in my labs were veterinarians from foreign countries; countries that truly supported the pursuit of higher education.  Others were in the program after completing a bachelors in animal sciences, and wanting to get to veterinary school, assuming a master’s degree would assist in the application process.  And then even less were like me.  The horsemen.  Farm managers, skilled sport horse riders, passionate horse owners, who had gone into this field because of a passion for a disease, a lameness, an ailment.

Ten years ago, I would have never believed I would be on this route.  I had wanted to be a veterinarian practically from birth.  I was passionate about animal health, I loved working with the animals, and I was fascinated by medicine.  Under the tutelage of Dr. Kelly Johnson, this fascination had grown to an all-out consuming lifestyle.  I spent my holidays from school in her truck.  I spent my summers working on farms and ranches.  I attended a university with a renowned pre-veterinary route.  I worked my ass off, one exam at a time.  And then I failed. From one rejection letter to the next, my confidence in myself waned, and my passion for this field wavered.

PHd 4

Working on a ranch in Wyoming to gain animal experience

Year after year, I did what the admissions told me to do.  I took that Online Animal Nutrition course.  I increased that GPA.  I worked with research animals instead of companions.  I got a full time job at a small animal clinic, having too many hours with large.  And nothing changed.  The rejection still followed me.  I became embarrassed by a 3.4 GPA.  I became enraged at my undergraduate university, believing its lack of reputation was at fault.  And I began to hate myself.  I was obviously undesirable. The vet school’s told me so.

So I rerouted.  I got hired as a manager on a premier thoroughbred breeding farm.  I found my niche.  I found happiness.  This industry that believed in the upmost care of their horses; the elite medicine of the game.  I met some of the best veterinarians in the industry.  But they all asked the same thing:

“Why not vet school?  You need to go to vet school.”

I smiled as I explained my story.  I laughed as I watched their interns struggle, all the while knowing that something about them had sparked an interest in the admissions committee. Something I thought that I was lacking.

But I slowly regained my confidence.  I increased my knowledge and my skill set.  And I became a damn good farm manager.  The veterinarians appreciated my passion for the medicine.  The lay people appreciated my horsemanship.  But something was still missing.  My scientific brain yearned for more.  So with a push from some of these famed veterinarians, I introduced myself to the Department Chair of the Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky; Dr. Mats Troedsson.

I spoke to him of my background, my bachelors in biology.  I explained to him my passion for these diseases that were affecting my personal broodmare band; placentitis and endometritis, infertility and genetic abnormalities.  And as I spoke, I saw him smile.  I realized that I had met a kindred spirit.  He told me of his background in ambulatory medicine, but his passion for science.  He explained that his primary interests were exactly mine: placentitis and endometritis.  We bonded, and I left the meeting feeling like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

I began my graduate degree 6 months later, in Dr. Troedsson’s laboratory. Nervous to leave the farm, I was calmed when I found that in the reproduction lab, we worked with horses just as much as a farm manager would.  Still upset by my lack of a veterinary degree, I was amused to find that I would be performing my own ultrasounds, my own palpations, my own minor surgeries.


Breeding a mare on my study

My thirst for medicine was quenched, and while I was not working hands-on with clients horses, I was satiated by the fact that my research might affect more. Instead of bettering one, I could actually better thousands.  The University of Kentucky is unique and outstanding in the fact that we have access to hundreds of research animals.  The farm manager in me is content by access to these animals, animals that are cared for just as I would my own.

And although there are still moments of insecurity in my career path, I try to push them aside.  I remind myself that I have gotten to do research on both of my diseases of interest: placentitis and endometritis.  And while the small studies that I have performed may not be ground breaking yet, my new found knowledge of both the physiology behind the disease, as well as in the laboratory techniques that can be utilized to study them, are imperative.  I went from a horse lover to a farm manager, a farm manager to a scientist, and to come full circle, a scientist that specializes in horses. I am finally content.

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Dr. Gabriel Davolli ultrasounding Harold for a study

I now meet so many young students who are either unsure of what they want to do with their bachelors, or are convinced that veterinary school is the only endpoint to a successful career with animals.  And I smile when I meet these people, because I was one of them.  I had no idea that this degree existed.  That I could be a doctor of philosophy in the field of veterinary science.  That there were other options.  I tell them of the pro’s and con’s of this degree.  I explain to them that I WAS one of them, and that although it took a windy road to get here, I am now happy.  


I hope to finish my degree within the next year, and can’t wait to have Dr. in front of my name.  This might be followed by PhD instead of DVM, but that’s ok.  I hope that those three letters strike up more conversations with the youth of the horse industry, and that they are intrigued by my story.  That they see something in me that reminds them of themselves, and that they learn about yet another career option in this great industry.  Let my struggle become their gain.  Let my passion for horses have a greater impact than what I ever had believed possible.




Sisters by barn…

I can remember it like it was yesterday. The age of five, wearing purple Wranglers at a dusty fairgrounds. I had gone to this Western Pennsylvania Quarter Horse Show with my Aunt Holly and Uncle Bob, most likely as an excuse to get me out of my mother’s hair. They were both ambitiously competing for another AQHA title, and like any young girl, I was quite easy to convince to travel to a show full of ponies. I was going to compete my own pony that I had been taking weekly lessons on, Chocolate, and struggling to memorize that damned barrel pattern.

Why did I have to turn left instead of right? What the hell was clockwise? Why did I have to trot instead of gallop? Who said I couldn’t whip my pony over and under like I see the adults do? This was a scam. I was ready for the pro’s.



So in a huff, my riding instructors daughter and I abandoned ship. We wandered off into the first mud puddle that we could find, and simply began to dig. As I tossed mud at her, and she smacked me with her stick, we realized something: this was love at first horse show.

Our relationship, one that started as “trainers daughter” and “client” soon morphed into something more along the lines of sisters. And like sisters, we loved each other deeply, but fought each other just as much. Both being good riders, we tended to be each other’s competition. And both on rather difficult horses, there was usually one of us heading home quite defeated instead of elated.

Amy 2

XC Schooling 1998 – Amy looks thrilled, and doesn’t have a safety vest…probably why she’s thrilled.  Oh wait, she still had this expression when I made her jump a XC fence Friday.


But it was in between the shows that the memories were made. While so many were aiming at qualifying for Penn National, we were building forts in the hay loft and being regailed by stories of how her mom once found a homeless person in her childhood hayloft, scaring the bejesus out of us. While some were desperate to make it to Maclay’s, we were finding frozen puddles in the driveway and perfecting our “Michelle Kwan” on paddock boots, sliding into the pavement more times that I can count. And while so many were sweating blood and tears towards Young Riders, we were trying to find ways to steal the tractor in order to get to the nearest gas station for Nutter Butter bars and a cherry coke.

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Fake eyelashes at PA 4-H States.  We were stunning.

Amy ran away (quite happily) from eventing and found her niche in the hunter world, while I ran away from all competing and found my niche in the delivery and raising of race horses, but we still stayed together at heart. I was there the day that her father passed, as she was for mine. I was the first person she called when her mother had a catastrophic riding accident, and her phone was the first to ring when my Uncle was diagnosed with terminal cancer. And then she held my hand by phone when my Uncle Bob slipped from my life, the only person I knew that I could call who would not judge my grief, guilt, and anger at losing another man from my world.  This same Uncle Bob that brought us together as toddler’s, somehow only made us closer as adults.

This past weekend Amy came to visit for Thanksgiving, as we try to see each other as much as possible, but that usually ends up once per year. As we drove to the barn to go check my horses, we began to discuss where everyone else from our riding childhood was. Some are still riding for pleasure, most have moved away and have no connection to horses, but there are only a handful who still compete. Who still devote their lives to this “hobby”.  A hobby that becomes so much more.  We giggled over memories of thrills and spills, most involving something her mother made us swear we wouldn’t do. But neither of us mentioned a ribbon or a trophy. We didn’t even really remember which show we were riding at that caused the endeavors of our lives.  It was so obvious that the all-consuming competition records that had tried to tear us apart were insignificant only 10 years later…

Amy 1

Yup, we went through a quarter life crisis and got back into Western Pleasure…me on my thoroughbred event horse…

And yet a month ago, I watched hours upon hours of live stream of Penn National just to catch a glimpse of her A/O round, and then two weeks later, she watched the entire live stream of the Retired Racehorse Project Makeover just to see my freestyle. She was the first person to call, to post, to message. She held my hand throughout the journey, from 500 miles away.

There are no stars next to our names, or large pewter trophies in our living rooms. The ribbons I hold most dear are a red one and a black one, both for random reasons. I never made it to Young Riders, just as she never made it to the Maclay’s. But what we lacked in fame, we have now made up for in dedication. In passion. In love for these animals and desire to simply be better. Neither of us are heading to the Olympics, but we are champions in our own right. We are two of the few who “made it through” the teenage years. An accomplishment we realized was quite large on its own.

Nearing 30, we now realize what was important in our teenage years. It wasn’t moving up a level, it sure as hell wasn’t making another rating in Pony Club. It doesn’t matter if we had made it to Young Riders, or the Maclay’s. Because what matters is that we came out the other side as riders who were skilled enough to journey off on our own. We are also two of the blessed who gained a friend for life. But lets be honest, we aren’t friends, we’re sisters. And we know, we are not be sisters by blood, because our bond is even stronger, we’re sisters by barn.

Amy 6

Legal. The illegal pictures didn’t make it.