My Aachen Experience
July 12, 2013

What an experience! Aachen was everything I had hoped it would be and more. Finn was an absolute star and the ground jury called him ‘the horse of the competition’! Although as a team we were riddled with bad luck from beginning to end, every one took the disappointments on the cheek and made the most of the opportunity to be there. It was an honour to be part of the first American team ever to be invited to Aachen and we all have grown from competing in the environment. For me, it was another conformation following our great result at Badminton that Finn and I are on to something. The little improvements that will take us from 10th to leading the field are now the finest of details, and will be the focus of our work for the next year. It was clear that Finn belongs amongst the best in the world and that we are not far now from besting them all!

Heading to Germany
June 23, 2013

I can’t believe it is already summer. Where has the time gone? A long and snowy winter led to a similarly snowy spring. We were snowed upon at three of my four spring horse trials. But after last year’s numerous event cancellations, British Eventing membership as a whole was determined to ride on, no matter what the conditions! So ride we did. I felt particularly sorry for Astier Nicholas when he arrived from the south of France to base with us for the two months leading up to Badminton. Amid gale force winds, ice, snow, and hail, I saw a familiar look of “what am I doing here?” as he got out of his lorry. So when Badminton week came around with the first solid week of warm and sunny weather in the last two years, we could hardly believe our luck!

As it turned out, Badminton was lucky for me in more ways than just the weather. In undoubtedly the most competitive field Badminton has ever seen, amongst an astounding number of Olympic, European, and World medalists, Finn and I managed an exceptionally solid and competitive performance. After two days of foot perfect competition, and what should have been a fantastic 6th place finish, our ultimate result was marred by an out-of-character two rails in show jumping. While a 17th place finish is still something to celebrate, I can’t help but feel how much slipped away from us on the final day. I am so proud of how Finn went all weekend, with a solid dressage, and what was called the “round of the day” cross country. I am thrilled with how fit and sound he came through it all. Even his show jumping could hardly be called his fault. More than anything, it was an unfortunate time to learn a lot about how to warm up and how to prepare him to go into the ring. Sadly, our rails were “had” before we ever entered the ring. But if there’s anything I know about horses, it’s that you have to savor the good times when they happen. As the New Zealand team coach said to me after cross country, “enjoy it, rides like that don’t happen very often.” It seems his words were a bit too fortuitous.

When we came home, with Finn fit and well and our first Badminton under our belt, all sights moved to the future. I received the message from the USEF that we had been selected for the Nations Cup team at Aachen, Germany, and my other Advanced horse, Ken, was entered for the prestigious CCI 3* at Bramham. My other exciting prospect, Doris, was proving as good as we could hope, flying around her first three Intermediates easily, and aiming for 2*. It seemed all my goals for the year were aligned so far. But with a sharp bursting of my happiness bubble, Ken went very lame. After all the standard diagnostics turned up nothing, we took him in for an MRI which showed he has a race horse bone injury rarely or never seen in Eventers and that was developing, unbeknownst to us, long before we bought him last year. Ken’s only treatment options were to do surgery and to give him a long period of complete rest with a less than optimistic prognosis for the future. He made it through surgery and recovery well, and is behaving better than expected on box rest. I know it’s easy to say, but he had as good a chance as any to win Bramham, and be headed to the World Equestrian Games next year. Instead, the crushing disappointment of seeing him “standing in” is a bitter pill to swallow. The only thing to do is give him every chance at a full recovery and then wait and see.

So with the departure for Aachen Germany fast approaching, Finn seems fighting fit and ready to go. We had a couple easy weeks after Badminton, and now he is happy to be back in full work. He had an easy run in the open intermediate last weekend at Nunney International Horse Trials where we lead the dressage by a mile, show jumped beautifully, and then we went intentionally slow but easily around the cross country. I have him fully “wrapped up in cotton wool” at this point and can’t wait to get to Germany. With a team of Clark Montgomery, Will Faudre, Marilyn Little, and myself, we will be looking to have a very competitive team performance. It is an honor to be selected for the USA’s first ever team to Aachen and it should be an amazing experience.

Greetings from England
Chipping Sodbury
March 12, 2013

Here’s a brief recap of the year so far.

The year started with snow.

and more snow…


Tractor driving lessons @ Chescombe Farm


Thank you everyone for helping to keep our school useable.

Training Sessions in England

By John on February 4, 2013 1:22 PM , Filed Under Eventing Nation

In the past, when US riders have headed over to train permanently in England, they did so with the full understanding that they were more or less unplugging from the US team system.  They were trading attention from the team for the best competitive environment in the world.  Like so many other traditions of the past, having to make that trade-off has died with the new US eventing program.  Instead of taking a weekend off, David hopped on a plane after the Ocala sessions and went to England to coach up British based riders Jules Stiller, Clark Montgomery, and Tiana Coudray.  Tiana was kind enough to write to us about her experience from the training sessions.  As always, Tiana brings a level of understanding to training that belies her age.  Thanks for writing this Tiana and thank you for reading.

From Tiana:

To start off, my report of our training session is going to be a little different from the California and Ocala recaps. We only had Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, and, with just myself, Clark Montgomery, and Julian Stiller, it was a very small group, so lessons changed over fast. I had three horses and Jules and Clark each rode two so there was very little time to watch anyone else. Most of all, in place of the oppressive 70* weather and cancer-causing UV rays everyone has had to endure so far back home, we’re in the UK. This means that for anything to take place, it requires a full kettle of boiling water, a ready supply of tea or coffee, and 6 more layers of winter clothing. Frequent discussion about the weather, although not required, is highly recommended. For myself and Jules, this all is a prerequisite and doesn’t require much thought anymore. I wonder for Clark however if the consequences of his new relocation to the UK are still sinking in. Ah, what we do for the love of our sport!

At any rate, I was eager and anxious for this weekend to come as I have never ridden with David before. So while many American riders have grown up under the O’Connors and consider David and Karen a pair of surrogate parents, for me, this was David 1.0.  I like knowing what is expected of me, what a teacher is looking for, and I really like knowing the answers to the test.  When you ride with a new coach, you are starting from scratch.  You start with building an understanding with each other of expectations and respect, and until you are both on the same page you cannot begin to move forward.  With a coach I know really well, I can start a sentence and they could finish it, and visa versa.  You have history and context for where you have come from and where you are headed.  I can do my homework and come to class ready with the answers because I know what is expected.  Seeing Clark with David, this is the relationship they have. For Jules, myself, and many riders across America, that understanding has to start now. In the process, things you know and do well can turn into a game of Twister.  The aids for trot turn into “Right Hand Green, Left Foot Blue, try not to topple over.”  Simple movements become mechanical and artificial as you break apart things that usually happen all as one.  By my third dressage lesson Saturday, I thought David and myself were starting to speak the same language and understand one another.  But then Sunday we were jumping, and that brought on more unknowns.

In my first lesson, David changed my gag rein onto the snaffle, and when Finian bolted with me across the school thinking this was hilarious, David said to me “twist your hips.”  As I attempted a rendition of the twist and shout to no avail at full gallop, David shouted “NO, TWIST YOUR HIPS!!!”  So I tried more vigorously, as around the arena we went.  Strangely this didn’t have the affect he and I were seeking.  Clark was forced to sit for 15 minutes while David and I got ourselves back on the same page, Loughan Glen wearing a knowing look on his face.  As I rode my second and third horses, just like the day prior, things came easier and quicker.  I found I understood more and more what David was asking to see, and that we were able to have a good discussion at the end about all three horses and what the homework is for each one.

I know that you have to lay a solid foundation before you can build a good structure, and this training session, for me, was the beginning stages of that foundation.  Hopefully, by the next time David sees me and the horses, we will have done our homework properly and we will have progressed to David 2.0 or further.  I will say that without exception, all the horses looked wonderful and very exciting for the future. With as good a group of horses as we all have, we can honestly plan to take on not just the UK, but the World.  Lastly, thank you to David, Jules, and everyone else involved for allowing us to have a great two days of lessons at a superb facility.

 3-4-13 – Facebook update


Great start to the season at Isleham horse trials for Finn and Ken.  Finn gave me a great feel all three phases and Ken was fab for two out of the three. I’ve also discovered what bit DOESN’T work for cross country. Trial and error. Guess we’ll be digging through the bit box before next event.

October 14, 2012

After the whirlwind that was the Olympics, it took a while for life to get back to normality.  In August I began to find the swing of things again when Doris won the Novice division (that’s Prelim. in the States) at Solihull Horse Trials.  She is a six year old that Nick bred out of his great mare Saxon Love.  She was orphaned the day after she was born and as the only living part of the mare that was so special to Nick, Doris got the name Saxon Legacy and some very big shoes to fill.  Following Solihull, we went to the CIC1* at Gatcombe Park where she finished 9th out of 118 entries!  She was one of very few to finish on her dressage score, and even more importantly, got a qualifying result for the Young Horse World Championships at Le Lion D’Anger in France.  So while Finn has had a leisurely holiday for the later part of the summer, all the pressure has been on Doris to prepare for her BIG adventure across the channel.  I hope Finn has been giving her some tips!  Nick also qualified The Court Jester for the 7 year old championships so we’re each looking forward to having a ride at what is said to be an incredible event. 

The lorry is loaded, the horses all wrapped up in bubble wrap, and my bags… who are we kidding, they’re not packed yet!  Packed or not, we’re off tomorrow for France and I’m incredibly excited.  Although I’m afraid that we’re going to be a little out of our league, it’s an opportunity to play on the world stage with a young horse, something we don’t get to do until they’ve reached 3* level usually.   With thousands of spectators and the best of the best, I’m looking forward to a great experience.  With luck I’ll find internet access and be able to keep everyone updated.  Au revoir …

August 19, 2012

To everyone who has been a part of my Olympic journey, whether last week, last year, or from the very beginning, we did it!  To go to the Olympics has been a goal of mine since I started eventing, but it was always so far away, and with so many things that could go wrong, I’m not sure I believed it was actually going to happen. On every step of the way, I have had the most amazing people become a part of my life.  This includes coaches, vets, farriers, and sponsors who have believed in me and my horse more than I did, and people who opened up their households and looked after me like their own, some who did not even know me.  The group of people who have gathered around me, teaching, helping, humbling, and supporting me is truly remarkable.  The saying goes “it takes a village,” well my village spans many states and many countries.
Throughout the team selection process I was considered a long shot, and I viewed the lead up to the games as a good learning experience for the next Olympic cycle such that I would be more prepared to try for 2016.  When I was named to the team, I was overjoyed, relieved, and proud of the accomplishment, but then we went straight into training camp for the next 5 weeks which was an incredibly tense and high pressure situation.  To say it was enjoyable would be wrong, but it was a huge learning experience and a lesson in mental toughness.  Once we got to the venue, a part of me wanted to take a big look around and say ‘wow, we’ve really made it to the Olympics’, but I tried instead to treat it like every other competition, to take the pressure off, and make it like just another day at work. Unfortunately, from start to finish, things did not go the way I had scripted them.  In all three phases we did not give the performance that we could have and should have given.  To reach such a huge stage and under-perform was enormously disappointing.  Most of all, I felt responsibility toward my team for how my result affected them, and responsibility toward all the people who have supported us to make the team.  With the wisdom of hindsight, I would do so many things differently.  There were so many hiccups that seem obvious now but were not clear before, and so many mistakes that could have been prevented with a little “heads up” or a different preparation.  And while it’s traditional to spend the next year finding people and reasons for why team USA didn’t win every medal, I will take the responsibility for my performance squarely on my shoulders.  I am responsible for how I trained, or didn’t train Finn. I am responsible for what I did, or didn’t do leading up to, and during the event.  There are so many things that I can take away from this experience.  If I can’t take a medal home, the next best thing I can do is learn everything I possibly can from it, and move forward.  If I am lucky enough to make another team in the future, I know without a shadow of a doubt, that I will be a wiser, better competitor for having been to this Olympics. Making this team is an experience that can’t be allowed to go to waste.

When competition finished for us, I half-heartedly went to the Olympic Village for two days, to have my “wow, I’ve made it to the Olympics” time, although I was feeling rather down about it all by then.  Seeing all the other athletes, and going to some of the other sports, and studying top class athletics of all types was time well spent.  I’m truly glad I did that because it was fascinating, inspiring, and really gave me a chance to just appreciate the accomplishment that is getting to the Olympics.  Every day, in every sport, someone is having a good day, someone is having a bad day, dreams come true, and dreams are crushed, but everyone there is an Olympian.  I am thankful I took those two days in the Village because they are a huge part of what I will remember as my “Olympic experience.”  I have come home incredibly motivated and with a clear plan of how to use the next four years.  With just Finian to my name, I am terribly lacking in horsepower.  The time to be bringing on horses for the future is now.  And while Finn has earned a bit of a rest, I’m itching to get back to work and start improving things.  I am busying myself studying competition video and riding youngsters without stirrups to keep me from pulling Finn in from the field and tacking him up!  Fortunately he has come home from the games in great shape and looks ready to crack on.  I look forward to getting him back into work, and with a bit of luck, having a few others as well to be aiming at the next team. 

Getting to the Olympics was the big goal that was far off in the distance.  We did it.  Next time I want a medal, and preferably the most valuable kind!

Great party Tiana… sorry you missed it!
July 21, 2012


West coast riders & friends of Tiana enjoyed an Olympic kick-off on Saturday.


DeeAnne Howe hosted a lovely brunch, complete with flags, banners and tons of best wishes for Finn and Tiana.

Photo credits – Alex Battaglia
Thank you Alex

June 14, 2012 

Many of you know that on Monday Finn and I were named to the Short List for the US Olympic Eventing Team.  It’s an honor and a privilege, and most of all, a huge relief.  And while we are by no means on the team yet, making the short list was a big split in the road.  Had we ended up on the other fork, this ride would be over for another 4 years.   After all the ups, downs, twists and turns of the last months, as well as years, it is incredibly exciting to still be hanging on to this crazy little dream, to ride at the Olympics. From the time I first had Finn as a youngster, I can remember saying that if things went our way, he could get me to London.  That was youthful naiveté and 7 years ago.  I am so thankful, and amazed to be where we are right now.  When I think of all the missteps, mistakes, and misfortunes that shatter dreams every day, I am humbled.  When I think of all the people whose unwavering support and sage guidance have helped a young horse and rider go from small town to the biggest events in the world, I am so grateful! 

I am by far the most inexperienced rider on the short list, and Eventing is a sport that likes to make you pay your dues.  But then again, sometimes things line up, the timing is right, and you catch a strong updraft that takes you to precisely where convention says you wouldn’t be. 

After a year of competing in England I know that Finn and I are more competitive than ever.  We’re more experienced and more educated than when we came, and I’m eager to show that when we go into training camp next week.  The final selection trial is in two weeks at Barbury Castle.   That will ultimately determine just how far our journey will go, and I hope with everything I have, that it takes us all the way to Greenwich Park.  All I can do at this time is keep Finn as safe and healthy as possible and trust in our preparation to this point.  Of course it never hurts to cross your fingers, hope and pray, and be partial to a few superstitions!

April 4, 2012

It is apparently against tradition to begin eventing in England before March and since we know the Brits are big believers in tradition, event riders spend January and February flocking to every schooling dressage and jumping show trying to shake off the cobwebs and out practice the competition.  While eventing in California and Florida was well underway, I was reduced to stalking the internet, jealously watching the results from across the pond, and of course trying to win every schooling show.  When March did roll around, all we were missing was a starting gun; we were off to the races.  Finn’s first outing of the year was at Tweseldown where we did a very excited dressage test, show jumped well, and had a good, although somewhat playful, cross country.  The following weekend, Prospere went very nicely in the novice (that’s preliminary in America) at Aldon Horse Trials.  Although I ran him conservatively cross country he finished 6th, adding nothing but time penalties to his dressage score.  My other ride at Aldon was Doris, a young homebred mare of Nick’s.  She unfortunately found the Novice a bit much for her first outing and, although her scorecard was marred by greenness, she had a good learning experience and came home a bit more grown up.  Two days later Finn was out again at Lincolnshire Horse Trials where all the big wigs came out.  It was a fantastic cross country course for the beginning of the year, with lots of gallop, good ground, and some difficult enough combinations to get the horses thinking and on their feet.  Finn was much more settled and down to business for his second outing.

The following weekend Prospere went beautifully in the Intermediate at Gatcombe Park again adding nothing but a few time penalties to his dressage score.  I was pleasantly surprised with how well he galloped along and that he found the cross country quite easy.  For the first time I was forced to stop downplaying how nicely he is going and consider that he’s a really good horse.  Then on Wednesday we took some youngsters to Somerley Park where I had my favorite ex-polo pony in the Pre-Novice (that’s Training level).  Dexter did a very steady dressage, and although he taped a few show jumps out of greenness, he was incredibly good to go in the big ring surrounded by the trade fair on all sides and jump around a course that was set very much to size.  Cross country he was absolutely brilliant, gaining confidence and experience with every jump.  For his first eventing experience I’d say he stepped up to the task very well.

Then it was Finn’s turn last weekend at Belton Park CIC3* where we needed to get a qualifying score and where Mark Phillips would see us out for the first time this season.  Finn jumped so well at home on Friday before we went, I was feeling pretty confident but when you need a qualifying score cross country, there’s no room for error.  He warmed up for dressage beautifully and the crowd that gathered at 6:00 at night when we were the last to go proved that I wasn’t the only one thinking we could do a blinder of a dressage test.  Mark said it’s the best he’s ever seen the horse, and one of the stewards said “that horse is nearly perfect!”  Frustratingly, when we went in the ring Finn lit up a bit and I didn’t do a good enough job settling him.  It was a case of nearly but not quite, for a score of 52. Mark and I talked about the fact that the horse is working wonderfully and now it’s a matter of perfecting the warm up to make sure we get the best work in the ring.  Frustrating, but not disastrous.  In Show jumping I let my disappointment of the day prior get the better of me, and I rode a hurried and desperate round causing Finn to have one down.  It is a testament to how good he is that on a day when people were having lots of rails, we only had one.  Fortunately that was a wakeup call along with Nick’s “what are you doing, chill out” pep talk before cross country, and I was able to get my head screwed on correctly in time.  Finn went absolutely brilliantly around a difficult and up to size 3* track, most importantly getting our qualifying result, but also letting me feel like we are right on track with our training and spring preparations.  Not bad work for three week’s time, and as a competitor, keeping a schedule like this will be about 4 times the experience I would normally have in a spring season.  If I didn’t know before, I now know why the Brits are so good at eventing!

This weekend we are off to Burnham Market where Prospere is doing the CIC2* and Finn will do the dressage and showjumping of the CIC3*. I had entered him in case of needing another chance to qualify, but now it will be a good opportunity to get in the big ring again and make some improvements without spending his legs cross country.  Prospere will be making a big leap up to the 2* level and with only two events together, hopefully we know each other well enough to be up to the task.

Hope everyone else’s springs are going equally well.

September 16, 2011

Where am I?.. Who am I?.. And WHAT am I doing here?..

Without question, it’s safe to say that my arrival in the UK didn’t play out like the script I had written in my dreams.  Such a monumental trip, moving myself and my horse to the Mecca of Eventing, following in the footsteps of so many legends in our sport.  Anyone who truly has made it in Eventing has spent time competing in England, and here I am attempting to do just that.  Does it mean as a matter of course that just because I’m here now, that I am to someday be one of those legends?  Hardly.  You see, the part that wasn’t in the script was that I would arrive here broken up, beaten down, and questioning everything about myself.  With dangerous amounts of time on my hands and nothing to do but reflect on my situation, I had hours of hacking down country lanes in solidarity to ask myself those corrosive questions.  Who do I think I am to have a great horse that I don’t deserve?  What am I doing in a foreign country as if I have the constitution to get by on my own?  What business do I have trying to follow along on the path of my idols?  And underlying it all was the question of whether Finian really wanted to be an Event horse.  I had no other horses to turn my attention to, no work to challenge me or give me a sense of accomplishment, and I had no friends or family nearby to shake some sense into me. This wasn’t a matter of life or death, war or peace, but what I knew logically and how I felt were two different matters.  Each day I went through the actions of going to the yard, doing the chores and so on, but the whole time I felt like an empty shell, as if everything I am made of had somehow drifted out like a wisp of vapor.

I hid myself away in my own personal cave and completely dropped contact with everybody at home.  For that I am sorry, but I hope those people can understand that I found comfort in suffering my disappointments by myself, without having to answer to any one for them.  In that way, the anonymity of competition in England was just what I needed.  Through small successes and huge disappointments I began to view my time here in England as bigger than “this season”, bigger than “this horse”, and so much bigger than “London 2012”.  I’ve come to believe that you can’t force success no matter how hard you try, how much talent you may be sitting on, and how much you may think the time is right.  It’s like I was staring so hard at my goal that my vision had gone crossed, and the harder I tried to not make mistakes, the more I forgot how to ride.  The more I worried about Finn losing his confidence, the more of it he seemed to lose.  I had to completely let go of all of that and start to view the ups and downs of this year as having a greater meaning, and one which I probably don’t even know yet. 

At some point along the way, somebody told me I wasn’t ready for Blenheim, and that competitive fire which has guided me through my life began to smolder again.  “Is that a challenge?”  For everything I’d been through this year, I had finally been pushed to the point of saying, right or wrong, I was going to stick to my gut and do what I thought was right.  And for some reason, although our results told a different story, I thought we should go to Blenheim.  A good friend at home adamantly told me that my instinct had never let me down, and my lesson for this year was to believe in it.  And so I did, and I accepted that if it didn’t go well, I had no one to blame but myself. 

Most of you know that last weekend was the biggest success of my Eventing career to date.  Finn didn’t put a foot wrong, and I put in a personal performance that I can be proud of.  While I am completely over the moon about that, and it tastes even better with a bit of “told ya so” sprinkled on top, I still feel that it’s all part of a bigger picture than just successes and failures.  While it’s nice to turn Finn out on winter holiday having finished on such a high, I’m not losing sight of the big picture.  Just like I couldn’t succeed by focusing on our weaknesses, I’m very aware that I can’t succeed off of one good event either.  I had a conversation with Karen O’Connor at Rolex talking about how you can’t focus on the Olympics too intensely but rather have it vaguely in view and I said “Of course, I’m not focusing on it at all.”  What has taken me 5 more months to realize is that I need to apply that same vague focus on every event I do, from Blenheim down to the smallest horse trials.

To the people who have helped me around every turn, I owe a huge amount of gratitude. I was shown kindness and support at a time when I undoubtedly needed it most, and probably wasn’t a very fun person to be around either!  From the hospitality and maternal/paternal care of the Allistons with whom I’m living, to the “been there, done that, it’s not the biggest thing in the world” support of Mike and Emma Winter, I am genuinely thankful for the people life has lead me to meet. 

…So there you have it.  I’m in England, I’m a young rider with a stubborn streak and a competitive nature, and for better or worse, I’m living the dream.

Luhmuehlen, Germany 
Jun 19, 2011

For anyone who’s been watching results, you already know that Saturday didn’t go as planned for Jennie or myself. Will started off the day with a fantastic go on Missie that showed once again just what a super pair the two of them are. In the four star, Jennie had an unfortunate couple of run outs that would seem to be just greenness, and nothing that won’t be easy to fix for next time around. Will said he had a great ride on Pawlow and just had a frustrating run by at a corner.

I’m not sure right now if the scoreboard showed me having a Technical Elimination or having retired but the end result is the same. We all underestimated the effect that our tumble at Rolex had on Finian’s confidence and we left the box Saturday like an ally cat instead of a lion. Even more poorly planned, the course here isn’t the kind of course that would rebuild his confidence because nearly every fence is a wide table, just the type of fence we fell at in Kentucky. While I got nearly all the way around the course, it was not the way I wanted it to be, and when we finally did have a stop, 5 fences from home, I knew it was time to pack it in. I can only hope that Saturday’s go didn’t set us back further in the process of putting the roar back in the lion.

Now we have to go back and do what obviously needed to be done after Rolex which is to start back at square one and see that all our ducks are in a row. I’m fairly devastated that I didn’t foresee this situation better, as a part of me knew coming here we really weren’t ready. I feel a huge responsibility to make the right choices for how to bring Finian along, and I failed him in this instance. It’s one more reminder of needing to believe in my own decisions, a lesson I’ve been struggling to grasp all year.

The irony of it is that after Saturday and now that we’re here in Europe, we’re on our own to do whatever we please. I guess the good of that is that there is no pressure to do anything whatsoever, but at the moment, I can only feel the loneliness of finding the way on my own, and the hole in my gut that we’ve lost the belief that people had in us. The most important thing is that all four horses we brought here seem to be in really good shape tonight and will be ready to have another crack at it soon. Today Jennie will head back home while Will and I will pack up and head off to the UK. I am heading to Mike and Emma Winters farm in Cirencester and Will to Jackie Green’s in Marlborough.