It was a rough winter on the farm. Back in September, we unexpectedly lost Bourbon, my first dog, after a short but sudden illness. He was 11, not young, especially for a big Aussie-cross, but not that old either.
In January, we said goodbye to Beauty, after a long battle with her many health issues.
Just a week later, Roscoe, the big pitt/rottweiler mix, went to the road and was hit by a car. I rushed him to the vet, but nothing could be done for his massive internal bleeding and spinal injury, so we had to put him down.
Then there was the rain....it didn't stop. All winter long it was 30-40 degrees and raining. My truck also died, and the repair bill was so high I had to sell it and get a new one. During all this time, I also was under extreme stress at my other job, the one that really pays for the farm. I remember thinking that there was no way things could get any worse.
Despite all that, I pushed on. Both Ludo and Knox were going well and showing a ton of potential. In February, I brought both of them to Texas and had a few days of super helpful lessons and XC schooling with Rebecca Brown. With all the other bad stuff that happened during the winter, riding these two horses was definitely a bright spot. I was pretty excited about the 2019 show season!
I'm not sure what higher power I pissed off, but fate definitely had other plans. Just a week after coming home from Texas I was riding Knox in the outdoor ring, cantering over a couple small jumps. I landed, made the turn, sat up and half-halted, when suddenly I hear a "pop" -my hackamore chin strap had snapped! My reins pulled back to my chest -I had nothing. Knox cantered on, accelerating slightly, so I reached forward and tried to grab him by the cheekpiece. In doing that, I actually pulled the entire bridle off his face, and that's when he decided to really go for it. Before things got horribly out of hand, I decided to just jump off. While my normal brain knows that jumping off a cantering horse and trying to land on your feet isn't the best idea (drop and roll everybody), my slightly panicked brain didn't get that memo. I landed on my straight right leg, got a little hung on the left, and planted it hard, twisting as I landed. When I went to stand up, I felt a "slithering" of some things moving in my knee and my ankle wasn't working properly.
At first I thought I would be fine, then I did that thing that all injured horse people always say they wish they didn't do...I took off my boots. The pain was pretty extreme and I was having a hard time walking, so I drove myself to the urgent care (using my left foot). I sat in the waiting room crying for an hour, thinking that taking time off riding, work, and the farm, due to an injury, was the ONE thing that my life absolutely could not handle.
I was wrong! Although it seems crazy to say this, this injury has been a good thing. I leased out Knox and he has had a great time doing some spring clinics and shows. Ludo went down to Rebecca Brown in Texas and got 6 weeks of professional training. She rode him in the May Texas Rose H.T. and placed 8th, with a super clean XC! I am continuing to recover from surgery and spending some time working slowly on my flat work. The farm has continued to run, and I've been able to re-focus some of my efforts on teaching and even planning a little show.
Sometimes a little time off can be a good thing!
Two Phase Combined Test/ Event Derby
SHOW DATE: Sunday, June 23, 2019
Always August Farm
530 Habberton Rd., Fayetteville, AR 72703
Organizer: Christy Zweig Niehues
What is a combined test?
A combined test is two of the three phases of eventing. This competition will include a dressage test and a jump round consisting of 8 stadium fences and an additional 2-4 XC style obstacles. All XC obstacles will be inviting and appropriate for their level. This is a fun and casual show, but we will stick to USEA rules/regulations for tack/bitting and scoring. Protective vests must be worn for jumping at the BN level and up (we are happy to loan you a vest if you need one). ASTM/SEI Certified Helmets Required at ALL times while mounted!
All entrants will receive a score on their dressage test, converted to penalty point (for example, if you score a 70%, you will have a dressage score of 30).
The jumping portion will have an optimum time and speed fault time, and penalties will be assessed at 0.4 points per second for exceeding optimum or speed in excess of speed fault time. Rails incur 4 points, and run-outs/refusals incur 20 points. A horse/rider total score is tallied with the lowest score winning.
*Please note this will take place on grass with some terrain. If you have never evented before, I urge you to enter at a level slightly lower than the height you are used to jumping at home. Dangerous riding will not be tolerated.
Ride times available HERE the Wednesday before the event.
STABLING: Limited stabling/paddock space available $25/night
o Light concessions available on grounds.
o Please leave your dogs at home.
o Dressage and Jumping will be in outdoor grass arenas.
o Riders will ride dressage prior to show jumping
o This is an informal and fun competition!
o Dressage tests available at https://useventing.com/events-competitions/resources/dressage-tests
2016 TB Filly for sale. Should mature around 16hh. Started under saddle lightly. Super friendly, calm, and steady personality. Great prospect for any discipline. Leads/ties/loads/bathes well. Has traveled to big venue (Texas Rose Horse Park) and shown in hand for the FEH 3-year old class --placing 2nd with excellent scores on conformation.
Today I had to say goodbye to Beauty, my first “real” event horse and my partner of nearly 20-years.
Back in the year 2000, when it came time for me to upgrade from my 14hh quarter-pony, my dad helped me pick up a gangly chestnut mare from the race barn in Western Massachusetts. Beauty was too slow to race and apparently had refused to leave the starting gate. We took her back to Coursebook Farm (Sherborn, MA) and although her vetting was less than stellar, we decided to keep her anyway. As soon as we loaded her in the trailer, I was so attached and thrilled at the prospect of finally owning my own thoroughbred, there is nothing anyone could have said that would have dissuaded me.
Beauty tolerated me, and I had no idea how lucky I was to get an off-the-track TB who would even do that. At age 13, I truly had no business owning a green horse of any kind. She fell on me at our first event in stadium (between fences 4 & 5), and I was hauled off in an ambulance with a concussion and broken collar bone. I returned to the barn the next day, donning a figure-8 brace and arm sling, and sat on her bareback in her stall, just to make sure I hadn't lost my "nerve.” Over the next few years, with the help of many, especially Carol Mayo and Douglas Grindle, I was able to compete Beauty successfully through the USEA Training level.
She was a frustrating horse --so afraid to touch a rail that I was as likely to go clean as I was to be eliminated in show jumping. She taught me everything about riding, caring for injuries (there were many), and persevering in the face of disappointment. Most importantly, she was my rock through some of the most tumultuous years of my youth. Caring for her gave me a much more productive after school activity than most teenagers had. Her name became an unconscious mantra that settled and centered me in any situation. When I got ready to graduate high school in Dover, MA, and my family moved to Arkansas, I had to sell her. She had multiple owners during the next few years, and did a variety of jobs, from the hunters to dressage to trails, until she was physically unable to.
During college, I worked for Sandy Hamm Horses, helping off-the-track thoroughbreds transition to new careers. When I graduated, one of Beauty’s old owners told me she was in need of a new home and I was given the option to get her back. Although she was now aged and had a variety of physical issues that limited her career options, Sandy Hamm Martini supported me. She loaned me her truck & trailer, and we drove from AR to MA to pick her up. With a snow-storm blowing in, we loaded her up and turned around to head straight home. The weather conditions were so terrible that the trailer nearly passed us on an icy New Jersey Highway. We didn’t sleep for over three-days trying to get home, and it is a miracle all of us survived that trip.
In 2009, with no jobs to be had in the decimated Northwest Arkansas economy, I got a job as the Horseback riding program director for the Girl Scouts of the Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys. I couldn't imagine leaving Beauty behind, so we made the 13-hour trek north together. We rode for hours in the wilderness at Camp Whispering Hills, and led hundreds of trail rides at Camp Northwoods. Beauty loved her western trail saddle, was an expert at neck-reining and ponying camp horses, and dutifully followed the trail while I sat almost backwards in the saddle keeping my eye on the campers behind us. Although I felt miserable at times: homesick, lovesick, eventually sick with Giardia, it was the best summer of my life.
Beauty and I came back to Arkansas, and I fox hunted with her at Misty River Hounds. She enjoyed all of her careers, but always was an eventer at heart. While walking hounds one day, I stopped and dropped my reins to let her drink from a pond. She took this action as an invitation to jump down the “drop fence" and gallop through the deep water, looking for the red and white flags on the other side.
As an adult, I bought my own farm and was able to keep her with me at my home. Her face is the one that appears on my farm logo. She taught countless people how to ride, made a comeback in the jumpers with another young teenager, and never truly settled down enough to be a calm and reliable kid's horse. She maintained the chestnut mare stereotype until her last days, nickering at me with pinned ears.
Beauty was here for me during every pivotal moment of my life so far; I think that's a rare and unusual gift, something that few people have. I am happy thinking of her on her best days, doing what she loved: leading and bossing somewhere outside with endless trails, cold nights, and sunny days.
Stone Ridge Eventing Winter Series I was a great event for AAF students and boarders!
We had beautiful weather and Stone Ridge Eventing, put on a spectacular show. It's so helpful and beneficial to have both an event this close to the farm, as well as one held during the off-season.
The weekend ended with several freshly minted eventers (horses & riders), as well as those who knocked the rust off after a long time away from the sport. AAF boarder Arden placed 2nd in the Starter division on her new OTTB, Vinny. Evan Niehues (a total newbie to the sport and a relatively new rider) & Tonic survived all three phases & gained tons of confidence. AAF student Stephanie & her mare, Savannah, had a much improved dressage & very forward brave jumping rounds. AAF Boarder, Jamie & Piper had a beautiful dressage test & XC round, impressively both had jumped their first real XC jumps only a week ago! Last but not least, Never Ceasing recovered from the Texas Rose adventure, and took 2nd in the BN division, finishing on his 32 dressage score. Most importantly, he jumped very bravely through the water!
Stone Ridge Eventing Winter Series II was held just a few weeks after Winter Series I.
Piney made the move up to Novice, getting a record 29 on his dressage test, and also taking home the T.I.P. Award for the best dressage score by an OTTB at the show. The week prior we held a Claudia Coley dressage clinic at the farm, and she was instrumental in some majorly improved dressage scores out of almost every horse & rider.
Piney jumped a double clear SJ and had a very forward/brave/over-jumping XC, with the exception of one bobble on the mound to cabin combination, where he stopped to talk to his friend Tonic and did not jump the second element. He jumped out on his second attempt and finished the course with a giant victorious buck --what a character!
Other AAF students each improved in at least one phase. Big congratulations to Denise for finishing her first BN!
We chose to start the recognized eventing season at Texas Rose back in April, with White Stromboli in the Open Prelim....let's just say that event did not go well for many reasons, and ended in my first elimination in 14 or so years. I came home defeated and with a very sore horse.
Flash-forward to November: Never Ceasing had been a consistent performer for more of the season and steadily improved in his training. I thought about entering him in the Novice at Texas Rose, but we decided to play it safe and do one more BN.
For dressage, he was relaxed...maybe a little too relaxed. Our test lacked impulsion and was b-o-r-i-n-gggggg. We still earned a 36, putting us somewhere in the middle of the pack.
The XC course walked well, but I knew the first water, situated on top of a hill after an up-bank, was going to be very surprising. We cantered out of the start box, and had to ride aggressively to the first fence --not at all like the easy galloping XC course I had a month prior. Piney jumped the first 5 fences, but was SLOW & staring at everything. The nice thing about this horse is he is not a dirty stopper or spooker, but he is a little stubborn, when he decides it's time to go slow to check something out for "safety," there's almost nothing that will change his mind. We jumped up the up bank, Piney saw the brightly colored dyed water, and I could feel his giant heart beating out of his body with terror. He slammed on the breaks, staring at the water....I'm not sure if he stepped back or shuffled his feet, but it was the longest 10 seconds of my life standing there trying to reassure him to walk into the water. He finally went through the water, but was highly suspicious of the next few fences. At one point he saw a golf cart parked near a fence with people INSIDE THE GOLF CART MOVING and completely put on the breaks. I could not get him to focus on the fence at all. The rest of the course was similarly messy, and we picked up another stop at the second water.
My coach, Cynthia reminded me that I was on a very green 5-year old and this was the kind of thing that happens and I shouldn't beat myself up over it.
I was so disappointed in myself and spent the whole night thinking of how I could have prepared differently or ridden the course differently.
The next morning, I pulled Piney's wraps off and found a small swelling on his RF. He jogged sound, but already being at the bottom of the score board, it did not seem like the time to risk injuring or further injuring my horse. We withdrew and headed home, majorly defeated.
As one of the closest venues, Heritage Park, is always a favorite show. We had an awesome time with the area IV & Stone Ridge Eventing crew.
Never Ceasing (Piney) improved his dressage to earn a 36 and sit in 4th in the OBN division. I know this horse is capable of much better scores, but I'm still learning just how much he can be pushed in the ring. The dressage judge was not giving points away, and this score put us only 3 points from first - less than a rail!
Heritage Park updated their XC course with a new track and some new fences. As soon as we left the start box, I knew we were going to have a fantastic round. He jumped every fence out of stride and we came home with a double clear. The next day, show jumping was bright & loud, up on the hill in the grass ring, & Piney felt very green. Luckily he does not like to touch the fences, so despite a few awkward distances, we pulled off another double clear. We finished the weekend in 4th place in our division. As I was packing up to go home, I learned that they were announcing the Thoroughbred Incentive Program Awards (T.I.P.) for the best score by a Thoroughbred at each level (across all divisions), and was surprised to find out that Piney won for the Beginner Novice level and also received $50 in prize money!
I've owned and boarded a lot of OTTBs and thoroughbreds at this point....If there's one thing I'm good at, it's putting weight on these "hard-keepers" and keeping them looking good even during the winter. Here are some things I've learned over the years:
1) Routine: All the horses have access to hay or pasture 24/7 and get fed grain twice a day. Our hay is baled off our own land or neighboring pastures, so the horses don't get a large variation in nutrition from hay shipment to hay shipment. For me, the benefits of feeding large roundtables in the winter, when there is little to no grass, significantly outweigh any negatives. Access to continuous forage is absolutely necessary to prevent ulcers (which 90% of OTTBs have at some point), helps alleviate boredom which causes bad habits, and also makes the horses less "starving" at feed time. When the weather is bad, I feed the roundtables liberally and clean up any bad hay they won't eat with the tractor. In my experience, a well-fed horse will not often eat plants or weeds they shouldn't. I don't try to force the horses to eat moldy, peed on, or weedy hay...even if that means some of it is wasted.
Two or three smaller grain meals are significantly more digestible than a single large meal. Feeding twice a day also gives me the opportunity to check on every horse and make sure they have normal appetites and no other injuries.
I always add water (warm water in winter) to all grain meals. This helps with digestion preventing choke, aids in keeping the horses hydrated, and also encourages them to eat any powdery supplements they might try to filter through.
In the winter, I try to set up heated tanks or I go out and break the ice on frozen water troughs multiple times a day. I do whatever I can to encourage as much hydration as possible.
Early detection is key! Feed changes should be made slowly, but I also try to match the horse's feed amount to how much work they are in. If I have a horse that is being hauled to horse shows 6+ hours away, two weekends in a row, he's probably going to lose some weight. That horse is going to need a little extra food the week prior to and post-competition. Likewise, if a boarder is going away on vacation and their horse is going to get 3 weeks off, they probably don't need as much feed. If I see a horse start to lose or gain a significant amount of weight, I immediately make adjustments.
2) Feed: My magic feed formula is Powell's Easy Choice + Rice Bran + Alfalfa.
All the TBs on my farm get Powell's Easy Choice, a 14% Protein 6% Fat Feed. I like this feed because there aren't big fluctuations in formula, it's low in sugar/corn, and it's formulated to meet the vitamin/mineral requirements of horses in this region. I've had horses on other popular brands of feed such as Nutrena and Purina, and they did not look as good as the horses on Powell's. I had two horses come to me on other brands of feed this past summer and they had significantly worse coat bleaching and hoof quality issues than other horses, which are both symptoms of vitamin/mineral imbalances.
For horses in hard work or those that don't gain or maintain enough on just the Powell's feed, I add in rice bran as a source of fat. Almost all TBs will need alfalfa (I like either chaffhaye real alfalfa hay), for at least part of the year. Alfalfa is a fiber source even picky eaters will enjoy, it adds protein, and it's high in calcium acting as a good stomach acid buffer. For this last reason, it's also great for horses prone to ulcer or other stomach issues (like most TBs).
3) Supplements/Vitamins/Minerals: Too many supplements are unnecessary and can even be harmful. Everyone should know the ingredients and nutrition levels present in each supplement they feed their horse and how all these work together and in combination with the rest of the horse's feed. I put all my personal horses on a hoof supplement like Farrier's Formula or SmartPak's SmartHoof, that is high in biotin, copper, and zinc. This area has high iron content which can cause dry coats and brittle hooves unless it is balanced with copper and zinc. For seriously hard keepers or those in hard work, I will often add a splash of vegetable oil for calories. When the weather is particularly hot or cold, I give all horses electrolytes or a little table salt to encourage drinking.
4) Exercise: Moderate exercise will often make a horse gain weight and look better. I've had a few horses that no matter how much you feed them always look "ribby." These horses often have little muscling or fat along their topline and have big "hay bellies" that seem to expand causing more ribbiness. An easy solution to this is moderate exercise! Just 2 days a week of light hacking/trail riding can make a HUGE difference for these horses. Most thoroughbreds want to work, and moderate exercise can also help encourage them to have a healthy appetite and stay focused on eating forage during the day.
5) Turnout, Shelter, Stalls, Flies, & Weather: We make an effort to keep the pastures mowed and free of an excessive amount of weeds and manure. Dragging the pastures in the summer is a good way to break up mature piles and allow them to decompose. I try to let each field rest for a minimum of a few weeks every year so the grass can recuperate. This also helps "heal" excessively muddy or worn down areas.
A lot of horses will actually lose weight in the summer, even when the grass is plentiful. Why?...Flies! Many of my horses are very dramatic and will literally run away from them. I have one horse in particular who unless he has 24/7 access to a stall will stomp his shoes off, pace the fence, and loose hundreds of pounds. Fly spray, fly sheets, and adequate shelter can help with this. The heat during Arkansas summers can literally "sweat the pounds" off a horse. Some horses will have to spend the day or part of the day inside if they are going to maintain condition.
For other horses, time in a stall causes anxiety and stress, no matter what the weather is. While it might seem "nice" to bring her in out of the bad weather, she will spend the entire time frantically running in circles, screaming for her buddies, and certainly not eating. These horses need to stay outside happy in the herd!
We've all heard that horses will lose weight in the winter--but there's no reason for this. While some don't, many TBs, especially pasture kept ones, have to wear blankets. These horses have been kept in controlled mostly indoor environments for their entire lives as have their ancestors for hundreds of years. I blanket all clipped horses under 60 degrees and most unclipped horses if it's below 30, staying frozen during the day, or if it's below 50 and precipitating. If your horse is shivering, they are well past the point of needing a blanket!
6) Ulcers: OTTBs, horses in heavy training, and horses that are traveling, are all at a major risk of developing ulcers. Any horse I'm showing regularly gets Aloe Vera Juice added to their feed twice daily --it's cheap, is proven to help, and has no drawbacks! If I am going on a particularly long or stressful trip, I will give my horses 1/2-1 tube of ulcer guard on the day I leave and every day I am gone. Horses displaying major sings of ulcers often need a full 28-day course of omeprazole or ranitidine, but I usually leave this up to the discretion of my vet.
In general, I try to create an environment for the horses that is as consistent, predictable, and low stress as possible. All these factors above also contribute to a very low rate of colic for horses on my farm!
If you have any questions about my feeding program and routine, just ask! Send me an email anytime at email@example.com.
They say that time accelerates as you get older. It must be true, because here it is, halfway through September.
I feel like we still have so much left to accomplish before winter, but in reality, we expanded four pastures onto the new land, spent countless days cleaning up the property and starting on a new border fence, got additional acreage along the driveway fenced, and completed numerous other projects like an outdoor wash stall, pea gravel areas, run-in improvements (and moving), mowing and weeding. Many of this is thanks to Evan Niehues, the man on the tractor!
Both yearlings are tame and able to be handled (big thanks to Susan Sullivan at The Flying Q). They are growing like weeds and looking more like beautiful future sport horses every day. The yearlings have been one of the most rewarding horse experiences I've ever been a part of --and I haven't even ridden them yet!
I have probably taken a total of 4 days off from riding TOTAL the past 3-4 months. Every day, sometimes as many as four horses in a day. It's been exhausting....and I do not feel like I'm riding any better than I was at the start of the summer!
We sold one horse and have another out on trial. Never Ceasing "Piney" has gone to multiple jumper shows, including a two day show in St. Louis. I've taken local dressage lessons, hunter/jumper lessons, and gone down to Texas for two days of lessons and long day of trail riding. Last weekend, Piney went to Kansas City to school XC. He quickly showed that the BN course was well within his capabilities and we ended up jumping most of the Novice course and some even more challenging combinations near the water and with ditches....he jumped everything in his usual cool, calm and collected manner. To say I'm excited to take this horse to his next USEA recognized event would be a big understatement!
Over the summer we've also been lucky enough to welcome some great new boarders, horses in training, and a couple new lesson students!
Adventures eventing as a semi-pro in the mid-south.