By Heidi Chote
2019 was markedly different from the last 31 years here at First Chance Farm in Wilton, CA. This winter was predicted to be quite wet in California, so it seemed like a good time to schedule a much-needed hip replacement (even though I’m not old enough for that sort of thing). I planned for early February shortly after the Adequan®/USDF FEI Level Trainers Conference in Florida. I was quite happily surprised when my daughter, Erin Velguth who is a Registered Nurse, offered to quit her full-time, benefited job and become my replacement in the barn until I was riding again. As an Adult Amateur, she can’t receive any income from the horses and retain her Amateur status. So, she picked up a part time job to help pay the bills.
Surgery went well and I didn’t hear about any disasters in the barn. My clients were absolute gems about the situation and willing to help with anything that needed doing. Two days post surgery, I still wasn’t up to leaving the house but handily, my bedroom window looks out over our “Winter Arena”. Through the open window, I could coach Erin to help her with some of the trickier horses. My dog thought I was nuts and the neighbors probably did too!
Erin tried her hand at teaching a bit, the first time in her 28 years as far as I know, and did a fair job to make improvements to the riders. I was impressed. She took on a green four-year-old mare who had been out of work since being backed as a three-year-old, learned about squirrely young horse lungeing, and now eight months later, has developed that mare into a fairly solid First Level horse that has been in the show ring quite successfully. The older horses in the barn each had their own challenges for Erin, but she met them all head on. We talked more than ever about training philosophy and techniques.
As I was able to be out teaching a bit each day, I could see the improvements continue in the horses. Although it was really fun to see Erin work on developing canter pirouettes and flying changes, the most fun was to see what she had been doing with her own six-year-old gelding, Tennyson M. Purchased as a two-year-old, this was the first horse Erin had started under saddle and done all the work herself. While I was icing, doing my physical therapy exercises, and learning to walk without a walker or cane, Erin had taken to heart the advice and comments I’d made in the past, and turned her feral, gangly, croup high, disorganized, less than enthusiastic partner into a developing powerhouse of a horse. It didn’t hurt that this was a growth spurt year for him, but with that power came the inevitable need to be creative with the suppling exercises. She did that and more. Erin decided to move Tenny up to Third Level and after two shows had achieved her final scores for her USDF Bronze Medal.
Although Erin grew up riding, she had back surgery right before graduating high school. Since then, she had only ridden sporadically when I had something appropriate for her in the barn. She hadn’t been in the show ring for a decade, so the physicality of riding multiple horses regularly was a bit challenging until she felt fit. In addition to the riding, she took on all the other barn chores excluding cleaning stalls. We feed three times per day, turn out all the horses, blanket/unblanket, do leg and shoe checks, clean waterers, get horses for the vet and farrier. AND water and drag the arenas once or twice per day. We don’t have a groom so all the tacking up is the rider’s responsibility as well. I don’t think she had ever worked so physically hard in her life.
Three months post surgery, I started riding again which was a careful and slow process. By week four of riding, I began to feel the need to start my three-year-old mare under saddle. She had been doing groundwork only to this point. Week five had me climbing onboard for what turned out to be a very willing and sweet first week under saddle. I was thrilled with her. Nurse Erin just shook her head and stayed handy. Luckily, there were no unplanned trips to see my surgeon.
That boosted my morale, which I really needed, as I had been having pain in my “good hip” as soon as the replaced hip was strong enough for me to tell the difference. So, four months after my first hip surgery, I took a cancellation spot with my surgeon for hip #2 and did the whole darn thing again!!!
Erin continued to slave away and improve her riding and training. Along with long-time friend, Kelly Prayter, who had also been away from showing for quite some time due to a heavy personal loss, they decided to try to get qualified for Region 7 Great American Insurance Group/USDF Regional Dressage Championships as a reward for working so hard this year; Kelly on her Hemingway and Erin on Tennyson M. They went to a couple of shows without me until I was feeling up to attending and within a short time, both were qualified; Kelly at Third Level and Erin decided on Second Level in order to be competitive.
It was particularly fun in that these two horses are half brothers. I developed their sire LSH Cadence In Color to the Grand Prix some years ago, and it was complete happenstance that Tenny and Hemi ended up at First Chance Farm. Stallion owner Michele Dodge bred Hemi, and Tenny came from Joyce Nugent’s farm.
Fast forward to September. USDF Region 7 and CDS Championships run concurrently here in California so if one decides to ride in both USDF and CDS classes, it’s important to know if your horse would or would not benefit from a warm up class. Both gals decided that they’d be better off not riding in an extra class but to haul-in to the show grounds a day early and work out any bugs at their leisure. Erin had chosen to ride in both USDF and CDS classes and Kelly had chosen USDF and AA Dressage Seat Equitation.
Results: Erin and Tennyson won the USDF Adult Amateur Second Level Championship and were third in the CDS Adult Amateur Second Level Horse of the Year Championship. Not to be outdone, Kelly and Hemingway won the USDF Adult Amateur Third Level Championship and the Adult Amateur Dressage Seat Equitation. Talk about a proud coach! These gals made a plan, implemented the training needed, picked qualifying shows (with a backup one if needed) and ended up hugely successful. I couldn’t be prouder of them both.
Oh and one more thing. Did I mention that Erin was also enrolled in her master’s program to become a Nurse Practitioner while all of this was going on? Holy cow! I’m tired just thinking about it all. I’m back to work full time now, enjoying my mobility and getting a bit fitter every week. Erin is busy with work, school, riding Tenny, and planning a wedding. Hopefully she’ll be able to chill out on her honeymoon…
About the Author
Heidi Chote has worked as a trainer and instructor for 33 years. She is a USDF Certified Instructor/Trainer through Fourth Level and is a faculty member for the USDF Instructor/Trainer Program. Heidi owns and operates First Chance Farm in Wilton, California. Prior to switching exclusively to Dressage, Heidi had an Eventing career.