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We Are Flying Solo

April 20, 2014

I'm Not Dead!

Or at least I don't think so?  I want to go for a walk!  *insert gong here*

Perhaps the whack in the head would be simpler...  But before that, despite brain overload and resulting AWOL status, I can throw distracting shiny pictures at you!!

The sun gets tucked in for bed over the driveway
Farm life, as my peers know, holds never a dull moment; just this morning it was CSI Wildlife in the front pasture while I investigated last night's very odd doe-icide with all the fascination of a curious biologist.  With nothing left at the scene of the crime but a tail, two ribs sucked dry of marrow and a pile of intestines, this experienced predator profiler was interested indeed -- I love having predators around, they are so vital to the ecosystem and there are so few of them left to do the work, but each species leaves its own calling card with the remains and this one fell outside the lines.  But that's another story for another day!

Off the floor, YESSSS!
Despite the unexpected, I love it all.  Too much, in fact, it pains me to have to leave when there are so many fun projects!  And, true to the horse person nature, the house itself sits in chaos, boxes covering the floors, still holding their forlorn contents.  The feed shed however, finally got its own shelves and I spent a good 45 minutes organizing and finding a place for ALL THE THINGZ.  I love interior decorating...when it involves hay string and blanket bags!

I took this Monday off to make a four-day weekend, filling my planner pages with overly-ambitious lists.  Only I forgot to include "exhaustion recovery" in there.  But every tidbit I cross off is insanely satisfying.  Although naturally, since the tractor remains in the spa for its freshen-up, the mower has decided it would rather not use its blades either.  No bush-hog, no lawn mower (although I've been poking at it and I feel close to figuring it out), plenty of spring rain and 10 acres of lush grass...and all I can do is pick at it with my electric string trimmer until the batteries need recharging (I wrestle with enough two-cycle engines at work, HATE).  Yep, it looks just as hilarious as your mental picture!  Hey, I love my trimmer!!

We have progress though --

That run-in that started (9 Jan) with my stunning foundation skillz?
By Feb 2nd, it was sheltering some...things for me (why do farms make us instant hoarders?)
By March 21st, it was a fully tricked-out facility -- don't show these to too many folks, I know I'll have 4* riders beating down my door for space any minute!

Dang, I should raise board!!
New, windproof small court dressage arena
In addition, thanks to my horses' morbid fear of all things resembling white tape, I was able to close the end of the top field with the Dollar Store version (don't tell them it's not even hot -- and not even close to the quality of my wonderful Horseguard) and the boys are getting their spring shine on, frolicking in long gallops across 3 acres of grass, grass, GRASS!

Can't complain about the kitchen window view
Encore:  Dude, have you been polishing your ass??
But I think we're all about ready for a very long nap...can someone call my boss and let him know?

April 11, 2014

Tell Me Your Favourite Volunteering Experience!

Who has adorable ponies!  Go meet them!!!!
On my last post, Eventing At Midnight (who also has some posts up from a spectator's view at the Carolina International CIC*** & HT, go read them!) asked a great question -- which I promptly & shamelessly stole for this post.

Because I suspect that for many, when they think of volunteering, they think of a day of slogging work when they could be taking a lesson or going to a show.  The reality, however, is quite the opposite. 

She asks, "What was your most memorable volunteering moment & event?"

As I paused to think, I realized it was a harder question that I first assumed.  Of course, I can't just say one thing, I must keep up my reputation as a hopeless rambler thoughtful writer, you know!  Priorities!  So instead, I'm going to share my top five.

Then, my dears, I would love to hear yours (in the comments or on your own blogs -- link in the comments so I don't miss any!!).  

Officially volunteer stuffs
(5)  Scribing at the 2013 Wardaca T/N3DE for an excellent FEI judge whom I had met previously as a TD (and wow, we are so glad he got his FEI card, what an eye!).  After noticing a pattern on several movements for which he made the same comments, I quietly asked what he was looking for.

Not only did he answer, but he explained the question the movement asked of horse and rider & why the noted evasions occurred.  I wrote it down somewhere, because it was a dressage lesson in itself, & I know I applied several gems as soon as I got home -- with results!

Meet cool people: Wendy, designer/owner, Kan-Tec
(4)  Sitting in on an afternoon break conversation between two dressage judges (both also licensed as TDs) at the Southern Eighths BN/N/T3DE (& HT this year!!!!  Entries are open until next Tuesday, April 15th, send yours in if you want to ride at one of the most gorgeous venues in the country), one very experienced with her FEI card (and my personal favourite to ride for, tough but very fair, positive, & helpful), the other having just completed the early part of her training.

It really opened my eyes:  you would not believe the unbelievable amount of time, money, & effort people put into becoming a licensed judge.  While there are still a few not-so-great ones who slip through the program, it is HARD, & I certainly think twice if I am tempted to grumble about a judge (although I am really not that person; rarely has there been a comment that I don't 100% agree with).

I judge Karen O'Connor at The Fork; the key is a great chair
(3)  My very first time (yes, I was a volunteering virgin!), when I XC judged the World Cup 3* (and so many other levels, I remember something like 350 horses) at The Fork.  I had a fly fence, a simple (if you have an Advanced horse!) table at the top of a short incline.

I was amazed at how differently each rider chose to approach it in terms of balance, speed, the shape of the horse, & whether or not they used the rolling terrain.  That was when I first glimpsed how educational volunteering could be -- and how fascinating to sit at one fence, any fence, all day long.

Of 350, I had maybe FIVE who never lost a steady, forward galloping rhythm & jumped the fence out of stride, as a fly fence should be, while remaining balanced in the center of their horse with a soft & educated hand.  Even more surprising was that those five were not the winners, nor were they big names.

Tremaine:  "OOOVER the jump, like this, not through, ok?"
(2)  Walking the Waredaca T3DE course with a top tier course designer (CD; yes, Tremaine Cooper, you rock).  I learned so much in that 45 minutes that completely changed the way I think as I walk my own XC courses.

As he perfectly put it, you are not competing against other riders, you are competing with the CD.

Seeing how a thoughtful & creative CD's mind works showed me elements that I had never even contemplated, such as the simple placement of a jump in relation to different types of terrain.  You can change a question entirely just by putting a log at the crest of a hill as opposed to putting it two strides back.  Knowing what is being asked at each jump gives you the ability to ride it proactively, instead of reactively.  And I think we all have experienced the difference that makes!!

2006.  What MY last 3DE jump would feel like.
(1)  The last day of the 2009 Waredaca T3DE.  It was the first year I staffed this USEA Area II Adult Rider-run event.  And it was beyond even my ample words to describe, in terms of atmosphere, horsemanship, education, professionalism, comraderie, sportsmanship, teamwork, & generosity.

I got to know each rider & follow their ups & downs through the weekend, attend all of the teaching workshops & course walks, pick the brains of officials, & meet fellow Adult Riders who, five years later, are irreplacable friends.

I walked away with two distinct feelings:  (a) I want to do this more than anything!  (b) With Brian O'Connor's trademark voice on the loudspeaker, a contest for the Best Dressed at each jog, dressage judges at C and E, & multiple vet checks, you really did feel like you were doing Something Big.

Max & DOC help Karen O. warm up at Rolex 2006. They'll help you, too.
My mind & body thrilled with the same excitement & anticipation of two decades ago, wandering the Kentucky Horse Park at Rolex every year.

But at the same time, there was a clear undercurrent of team spirit, that we, riders, volunteers, clincians, judges, were all in this together & if any member found themselves in need, they'd better find a snorkel before the descending hordes of help smothered them!

Everyone was Someone & as folks like Stephen Bradley & Karen O'Connor & Max Corcoran & Tremaine Cooper & Sharon White & Colleen Rutledge are by your side & no question is silly or out of bounds, how can you feel anything but lucky?

Notice all but one are at a 3DE?  Hmmmm....  I showed you mine, now you show me yours!!

April 7, 2014

Carolina International: Video Wrap-Up

I think you gonna need some horse for this one...
Yes, well, several weeks later -- as you all know too well, there is never a dull moment (or a spare one!) with horses.  Or my job in springtime!

However, I wanted to try to sum up several key aspects of the 2014 Carolina International CIC*** and HT that continue to stand out in my mind.  One unpleasant shift that I had feared when FEI decided that the CIC format should run dressage-SJ-XC was confirmed.  Since this schedule no longer requires the traditional Sunday morning horse inspection the day after cross country and the horses no longer have to be "saved" for show jumping, I worried that for some riders, one large incentive to pull up a tiring horse and stop if there was just a second of "NQR" was then removed and those competitors subject to such pressures, would instead keep running for the money since it was "just a few more jumps."

I was not wrong.  If you have never had the pleasure of running at the Carolina Horse Park, it is a HILLY course.  There are long gallops and the ground undulates around every turn.  At no level can you get away with "mostly almost fit."  In the past, I've witnessed more than a few Olympic-level pairs, both at CHP and Rolex, pull up mid-course after a single stop or even in the middle of a field when a horse looked fine to me.  But they felt something and chose to make The Horseman's Decision, putting the best interests of their partner first.

The cardiopulmonary system is a tissue too!
Granted, we've had a BITCH of a winter on the east coast, with very few escaping its wrath.  But if you are competing at the FEI 3* level, by that point, I feel you need to either get the fitness work done or else just wait.  It may be your job, but it's still a horse show and a risky one at that.  So it was with a sinking heart that during the 3*, several horses came through roaring for air, with exhaustion etched on their faces and in the twitch of every muscle...and not a one pulled up.  Don't mistake me, most were well-conditioned (some even a bit overly so!!), but that handful who were pushed home over "just a few more jumps" by riders who had the knowledge and experience to know better confirmed my suspicion that the temptation was too great, only adding to my long-held distaste for the FEI and its seeming disregard for serious and meaningful protection of the welfare of these horses who give us everything they have and then some.

Author's note:  This has nothing, zero, nada to do with the sad losses of Powderhound and Conair at The Fork last weekend, so any internet speculators, bugger off.  I "know" both Will Coleman and Andrew McConnon through one degree of separation and both of them are wonderful, thoughtful, caring, compassionate horsemen who would never for one second do anything to put their beloved partners at risk.  Both geldings were incredibly fit and talented and made their jobs look easy.  Tragedy  has no sense of timing, nor does it have the mercy to always occur in private.  TFS, as noted on FB, sends out a hug and condolences to both teams.

But on to a happier note...  Eventing Nation stated in their summary that Saturday was "all about Marilyn Little."  I couldn't disagree more.

Emily Beshear and a tidy Shame on the Moon
The weekend was all about a huge group of people who came together for the love of the sport and the horses that captivate us and created something special.  The Carolina Horse Park has a long and storied legacy in the Carolina sandhills and its "family" of supporters, competitors, volunteers, students, trainers, officials, neighbours, and veterans brought their hard work and their contributions to the table, ready to bring our beloved facility into the national spotlight.  I can't think of a greater measure of success than the fact that not only were there over 400 entries from T to 3*, but, at least from my folding chair, everyone from the winning FEI riders to nobody smurflet me was treated with respect, gratitude, and taken care of through attention to even the smallest detail.

After much contemplative review, this event was all about the fallen rider, who in each case was swooped up and whose horse was cared for nearly as soon as they met the ground.  It was about that person we don't know who crossed the finish line hollering with glee and hugging her horse because they completed their first FEI event and that other one who got eliminated but slipped her horse a treat anyway and thanked him for his efforts.  It was about illustrating that a cross country course can be big and challenging and shake up placings down to the last rider on course, yet still allow a mistake without lethal punishment.  It was about creating an environment embracing all of the reasons that make eventing great, where an adult amateur can ask questions, observe, converse, and learn from some of the best minds and skillsets we have, from riders to judges to builders to grooms.  It was about sitting in a tent with the legends of our sport, whose shining partners' hoofbeats pounded by a ten-year-old me next to a galloping lane at the Kentucky Horse Park, and realizing that those reasons and that passion is still there, no matter how bumpy the road may be.

CIC*** 17-18AB:  Sharon White and Raffery's Rules present a masterclass on How It's Done:

Buck Davidson and Ballynoecastle RM find the line he wanted after going through earlier with The Apprentice, firmly entrenching he and Reggie in 2nd place:

CIC** 16ABC:  Becky Holder and Frodo of the Shire pop-pop-pop through on their way to 7th place:

This, my friends, is why I drive hours and give up days of my time to volunteer.  And why I staunchly encourage you to jump in there and discover all that is offerred.  It doesn't matter if it's a Gold Cup qualifier or a local schooling show (I did that two days ago, a Walking Horse show at our old boarding facility, no less!), I guarantee that if you keep your eyes and ears open, you will accumulate valuable tidbits to take home and apply to your own riding and training, even if it's "OMG, never do THAT."  Where else do you get to sit next to a top dressage judge and ask what he is looking for at the free walk, or listen to the course designer describe how he uses the terrain to ask different questions at the same type of jump, or watch how the choices of riders from new to veteran affect how their horses' balance and jump right in front of you?

So -- where are you parking your chair next?