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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label famous horses. Show all posts
Showing posts with label famous horses. Show all posts

September 19, 2015

Five Points Of Fantastic

Because adorable. From Reddit
Better late than never?  But after our own exciting jumping achievement this morning (sometimes small, uneventful jumps are a really big deal!), I can finally get around to posting -

My Five Favourite Points Of Five Points HT (say it five times faster)

Because there really was a lot of fabulous outside of the unfortunate.  In no particular order, as awesomeness levels are equivalent:

  1. Watching the best at their best.  The demonstration of adjustability & incredible skill to package your horse beneath you without losing that critical forward impulsion & power, well, it was not only stunning, but consistent.
    • Subtle yet huge:  we all get our wrists slapped, no matter the discipline, for riding backwards.  I was thrilled to see lines & horses moving FORWARD FORWARD FORWARD, even as shapes & strides changed.
    Dan: "Meh." From
  2. Kim Severson.  O.M.G.  I want to ride like that.  A young me knew I was watching something special every time she & Dan (legend Winsome Andante, above) thundered by us to win Rolex THREE times (in between Olympic medals, ha), but add 15 years of educating my eye...
    • Every time she came through, it was like watching the flow of silk.  At a whole new pinnacle of her game, Kim's quiet body would offer just a breath of a suggestion through a soft shift of one hand.  I had goosebumps watching a near-telepathic invitation to the horse that connected delicacy to power, as if saying, "Lovely creature, the next jump is just there, well done." 
  3. Being part of the community.  Every time I volunteer, in any capacity, there's always this unique feeling, the knowledge that you are helping to create something bigger than yourself.  And it's a community of sharing, teaching, helping, learning...yes, you can start singing "kummm-by-yaaaa" now, ha!
  4. Seeing old friends, making new ones.  So many wonderful connections built up over the years & events are often the only chance I get to enjoy them in person!  And I don't think I've ever walked away without meeting a new one.  And hopefully not weirding them out too much in the process, heh.  Whether it's been a month or a year, the smiles, support, & stories never seem to wane.  
      • It's just a bonus to get to share the experience with BFF, who has a fabulous eye & eats up the epicness as fast as I do!
      I feel like I recognize that...
    1. Inspiration to work on my own horse.  We all get stuck.  Spending a day watching 150 mini-lessons 15' in front of me sends me home with a flurry of tips & ideas I can't wait to try.  It seems to remind my subconscious that, oh yeah, we used to do this fantastic thing, how about we get back to that??
    What about you?  Have you had the privilege to get free riding lessons from 10 pros at once volunteer recently?  What was your favourite??

    June 6, 2015

    Belmont Day: It’s Still A Small World!

    In less than four hours (post parade at 6:40 pm Eastern Time, live stream from NBC here), Bob Baffert-trained colt, American Pharaoh will make his bid for the Triple Crown & Belmont Park’s last quarter-mile of track will once again ask if anyone can meet the challenge last conquered 37 years ago in Affirmed’s triumph (click for video).

    Did I hear my name??
    I don’t think I can NOT watch.

    Fun Triple Crown History & Graphics:
    Fab Infographics    |    Past Belmont Winners

    Despite my ever-present worry for these young athletes, there is an uncanny series of connections between this afternoon’s grueling 1.5-mile thunder of hearts & hooves & the dappled liver chestnut I just hosed off after a short hill session.

    American Pharaoh was sired by another Baffert-trained stallion, Pioneerof the Nile.  The latter made his own attempt at much-coveted garlands when he ran in the 2009 Kentucky Derby.  If it doesn’t immediately pop to mind, that was the year of 50-1 longshot, Mine That Bird’s incredible upset.

    Under the guidance of legendary jockey, Calvin Borel (who also steals the show starring as himself in the film portrayal I JUST saw), that determined little gelding started dead last & ended up leaving the entire field of prestigious hopefuls in his wake on the way to collect his roses.

    So why can’t I look away?

    Some recent perusing of Equibase, made my eyes bug out (ok, it’s not that hard, but still…).  Encore’s own sire, Crowd Pleaser, was a 1995 PA-bred turf champion by AP Indy, winning his owners over $600,000 on the track.

    And his last jockey in his final stakes wins (including the 2000 Sycamore Stakes, covering just over 1.5 miles on the beautiful grass of Keeneland Park, where he beat an Irish TB named Royal Strand who had set the track record just the year before)…was none other than Calvin Borel (who was finally inducted into the Hall of  Fame in 2013...I think winning over $125M earns him a spot!).

    Click to embiggen
    However, even if Pharaoh doesn't carry our historic connection across the wire first, breaking from #7 atop Curlin' son, Keen Ice, is Hall of Fame jockey, Kent Desormeaux, who rode Crowd Pleaser's dam, British mare Creaking Board in her last race in 1993, for yet another household racing name, trainer Bobby Frankel.

    Regardless, just as I say in eventing:  may everyone keep the steel side down & run home safely!!

    Will we see one?  Seattle Slew's 1977 Triple Crown trophy

    March 22, 2015

    Blogger Meets, Vol. II: I Add My Approval To The Owls’

    Savannah sidewalk to hotel
    Because I met royalty in Savannah at the end of January.   (Click here for Vol. I)

    *pauses to accept shaming for being so many stories behind*

    I had been emailing Beka (yes, THE Beka, unerringly witty author of “The Owls Approve) at the beginning of the year when she worried that Archie may need surgery for his irritatingly persistent leg wound (not that I would know aaaanything about those, ahem, orange money-eaters…).  Perfect chance to use one of the top perks of being a member of your USEA Adult Riders program:  hidden opt-in membership to what I have named Eventer Mafia, aka whatever help you need, wherever you are.

    My view while writing, hence distraction!
    Uh, Mafia?

    The credit for the name goes to BFF, who applied it to another organization her husband was heavily involved in.  Both groups follow the classic model, though:  participate, volunteer for jobs, you meet people, they know people, people know people…and before long, everyone in EventLand becomes Kevin Bacon.  Although it’s usually far fewer than six degrees in this microcosm of HorseWorld (why do I like to name things like theme parks?).

    Bet you didn’t think a horse blog post could connect owls, Kevin Bacon, & the Mafia.  Hey, a motto of mine is that we all have to be good at something.

    Back To Beka

    As she was concerned about Archie having to stand in a trailer post-op, should that occasion arise, I immediately whipped out one of my other skills of questionable merit:  attempting to solve everyone else’s problems.

    Although in HorseWorld (“Tiger Trap” would be a great roller coaster name), it’s what we do, asking is not a pre-requisite!  I consider it paying it forward; there aren’t enough fingers in the noses of the world’s toddlers to count the number of people who have helped & taught me over the years decades.

    I did at least email Beka with the offer before I threw resources at her, to slightly reduce creep-factor.  As I sent a quick text to find the contact information for several great vets & farm owners in GA, my brain had a rare moment of remembering something useful.

    “Hey Beka – don’t you live in Savannah??”

    Yes, yes she does.

    “OMG, I will be there in two weeks for a work conference, wanna meet up?”  I mean, because, we both write about our horses & use dripping sarcasm on the interwebz.  Obviously we are both weird & crazy (in the best way), how could we not be besties??

    Of Course We Did!

    World tiny-ness:  Beka’s office was two block from our conference hotel by the Port.  Archie was a 45 minute ride from downtown, did I still want to meet him?  ABSOLUTELY!  One cannot meet a Beka without an Archie, it would just be wrong.

    She walked over to my hotel & after a dinner date, we headed out to Archie’s home.  Beka herself was even more awesome in person than I suspected.  Not only hilarious, but compassionate, saavy, & unfazed by my habit of talking without pausing for breath.  I loved her immediately.

    Beautiful portrait by Beka
    Teh Archie

    There was little moonlight when we parked under the Spanish moss at the farm.  My kind of place, casual, practical, organized, with nice, airy facilities for our southern summers.  I’d of course seen pictures of Beka’s incredibly sexy beast online, but I was in no way expecting what she brought back from the paddock.

    You may have noticed I’ve become a teeeeensy bit of a TB nerd.  I’m moderately competent at guessing major bloodlines based on build & type.  However, when Archie stepped into the light, all I could say was, “Wow.”

    Bold, intelligent eyes sized me up from a gorgeous, classic head, the kind I haven’t seen in a long time.  Archie looked like he was chiseled from a perfect model of the old British Thoroughbreds & he moved with a gliding confidence & precision that was simply stunning.  I believe my response was something tasteful & eloquent, along the lines of, “Holy shit, Beka, you have an incredible horse!”  Yeah, I’m much better in writing, LOL.

    Photo shamelessly lifted from Beka's lovely work; pics in the dark suck.  :-(
     Archie stood patiently (perhaps swayed by my eagerly stuffing a carrot in his face) while Beka changed his bandages (his wound looked great!) & we proceeded to blind him about 47 times with camera & iThingy attempts at selfies.  Note:  we both kinda suck at selfies, heh.

    No drugs were involved in the making of this picture
    I remained stumped though; I told Beka, “Don’t tell me his breeding, I’m going to test myself!

    Don’t worry,” she answered, “I don’t even remember it anyway, LOL!”  Sweet, no accidental clues!

    Did You Win In The Game With Yourself?

    Nope.  The closest I could get was “some ooold, high-end European blood.”  Then I made her requested she look it up before I exploded.

    The Prince
    No wonder – I’m not sure I’ve ever knowingly met a horse in the last decade who had Princequillo on the first page.  That exquisite British stud who nearly died on the ship carrying he & his dam to the US, away from the war where his sire died in artillery fire.  He was so sickly when the ship landed, he sold cheap...and became the greatest distance runner in US history alongside Kelso & was grandsire to Secretariat.
    Not only that, but he was bred to the phenomenal mare, Baby League – I would have loved to have met La Dauphine, the filly that resulted!  Add in the strong lines of Nashua through Archie’s damsire, Seattle Slew on top (along with the obviously epic stallion, Chop Chop, nooo, I’m not biased at alllll…. ;P), & the fact that he’s a Storm Bird grandson, who are known for their athleticism & grit…no wonder I stopped breathing for a second!!

    Wrap It Up, Rambling (Wo)Man

    Classy woman.  Classy horse.  I am now part of yet another fandom (although sorry, Beka, Cumberbatch might outrank you on the fangirl list, but not on the awesome People Who Live In Normal World list!).  Does this mean I have to start a G+ group or something?

    Beka, it was an honour, a pleasure, & a relief from fish conference stress (oh, it starts wayyyy before the conference itself) that I needed even more than I knew. 

    By the way, you now need to move to NC so we can hang out & compile unbeatable sarcastic comebacks while galloping walking (like they are sound when you want them to be) horses though the woods.  I’ll get you in the Mafia…

    March 17, 2015

    Touching The Triple Crown

    Post sponsored by,,

    In Kentucky's bluegrass & limestone, where I spent 10 years of my youth, there is one day that has been sacred, every single year, since 1875 : the first Saturday in May.  Derby Day.

    One amazing filly; from
    In fact, the year we moved east from southern California, 1988, I was eight years old, & while we'd breathlessly watched Alysheba's gritty victory in '87, I'll never forget Winning Colors pushing her white bridle across the wire to become only the 3rd filly in what is now 140 years to wear the roses.  She not only led, untouchable save for Forty-Niner's late surge, start to finish, & went on to pocket over $1.5 million in her 19 starts, there hasn't been another since.

    Those of us who don't normally follow racing, even those who don't know a thing about horses, still can't help but stop for "The Greatest Two Minutes In Sports."  Both legends & tragedies have unfolded over that mile-and-a-quarter, driven by the breathtaking power of pounding hooves & the stories that run beside them.

    Aristides, 1st Ky Derby winner
    Even The Race Has A Story

    Just like the athletes, the Ky Derby sprung from English roots:  the Epsom Derby is the second race in the English Triple Crown (between the 2,000 Guineas & the St. Leger) & remains Britain's richest race.  Also run every year, beginning in 1780, this 1.5-mile contest was watched by a Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., the grandson of William Clark (yes, as in THE Lewis & Clark!).  Upon arriving home (all the cool kids live in KY, naturally), Clark promptly founded the Louisville Jockey Club as a fund-raiser to build a great American racetrack.

    Even more illustrious history, along with guides to whose names we might hear on this year's irresistable call are all at your fingertips at sites like &, where you can peruse your favourite Derby legends as well,  and, which additionally lets you follow the Triple Crown, the Breeders Cup, & other top stakes races around the world.

    Alysheba with Chris McCarron, stunning in blue & white
    It's Only The First Race...

    The Triple Crown:  does it even need an introduction?  There have only been 11 horses to win the title, although the official name did not exist until the 2nd winner in 1930, Gallant Fox (poor Sir Barton, but we still count him!).

    We held our collective breath in 2014 as the brilliant chestnut, California Chrome, came so close.  Winning the Derby & the Preakness Stakes handily, he still finished 4th in the grueling 1.5-mile Belmont Stakes after suffering in-race injuries.  Nonetheless, he joined a prestigious list of 22 horses since 1932, including my own Alysheba, the son of Alydar, Affirmed's career rival (like Chrome, he came in 4th in the Belmont), who have "almost were."

    Fun fact:  If you look at Chrome's pedigree, you will see a great-great-grandsire on top is the Irish stallion, Caro...who sired Winning Colors. 

    It's A Thoroughbred Thing So I Had To!

    Yes, after the sponsors contacted me about a Derby post, I immediately had to find out how many Triple Crown legends stood proudly in Encore's family tree (the pictorial version is still a work in progress, but a fun one).  I have been fully assimilated into TB-geek-land!  And the results are in:

    2 legends: Eddie Arcaro soothes a chiseled Citation
    A quick glance at his pedigree immediately shows the common, but no less phenomenal Seattle Slew (1977), Secretariat (1973), & War Admiral (1937).  Their stories, along with the spectacular Citation (1948), one of only three major North American Thoroughbreds (along with Cigar & Zenyatta) to win at least 16 consecutive major stakes races, I shared here

    Digging a little deeper, I discovered that he directly carries the blood of SIX of these champions.  Putting my hand on Encore's shoulder, I can almost hear the rush of the Winner's Circle at Belmont Park...

    The Additional Three:

    Gallant Fox:  (1930)  Ridden to victory by jockey Earl Sande, he was the 1930 Champion 3-Year-Old Colt & Horse of the Year 1957 Hall of Fame Inductee.  Earning $328,165 in an era of hard luck, his sire line produced a Canadian mare, Ciboulette, who foaled a Northern Dancer colt named Night Shift, Crowd Pleaser's (Encore's sire) damsire.  Gallant Fox was the only TC winner whose son equaled his feat:  he sired 1935 Triple Crown winner, Omaha.

    Gallant Fox with his dam, the "Matriarch" herself
    Interestingly, his dam was a British mare named St. Margeurite, considered one of the "Matriarchs of the Turf."  A stakes winner in her own right, she was also the grand-dam of the English Triple Crown winner & damsire to Man O'War, Rock Sand.

    Count Fleet...apparently worthy of your furs
    Count Fleet:  (1943)  Sired by the 1928 Derby winner, Reigh Count, this Ky-bred colt was undefeated as a 3-yr-old, even though he was injured while winning the 1943 Wood Memorial, a Derby prep race.  He recovered in time to win the Derby by 3 lengths & became a wartime hero by the time the Belmont rolled around.

    Only two other horses dared to challenge him there -- Fairy Manhurst (there's an unfortunate name for you) & Deseronto -- but he & jockey Johnny Longden left them in 25 lengths of dust, which stood as a record until Secretariat's unforgettable 31-length lead three decades later.

    "The Count" was owned by the wife of John D. Hertz, of rental car fame & he sired a mare named Sequence in 1946. Her Nashua daughter, Gold Digger, gave us Mr. Prospector, father of Encore's damsire, Allen's Prospect.  Count Fleet lived to the ripe age of 33 at his Ky stud farm; his son, Count Turf, also won the Ky Derby in 1951.

    The Other Five...Strands In The Web

    Allen's Prospect in MD
    Sir Barton (1919) was a son of the British stud, Star Shoot, who also sired the unforutnately-named Uncle, producer of the rich damline of Allen's Prospect.  Sir Barton's damsire was Hanover, an American stallion in Tettau's (Encore's dam) damline.

    Omaha (1935), as mentioned, was sired by Gallant Fox, out of a Wrack mare named Flambino.  This  made him a full brother to Flares, Ciboulette's grand-sire.

    Whirlaway's (1941) sire was the unparalleled British stallion, Blenheim, contributor to innumerable great lines, out of a mare by the equally influential American stud, Sweep.  Blenheim appears many times in Encore's past, but most closely as the sire of the French stallion, Mahmoud, who fathered Silver Fog, the mare bred to Citation, as well as Almahmoud, grand-dam to Northern Dancer.  Sweep surfaces most as the sire of the great mare, Brushup, who gave birth to War Admiral himself.

    Hail To Reason: easy on the eyes
    Assault (1946) was out of a mare called Igual, by Equipoise, an American stallion who was Silver Fog's damsire.  Igual was also the grand-daughter of Masda, a full sister of Man O'War.  Assault's sire was a son of St. German, the British damsire of Galla Colors, grand-dam of Hail To Reason.

    Affirmed (1978) was a grand-son of Raise A Native, most famous as the sire of "Mr. P," & a Native Dancer son.  Our last Triple Crown winner's damline also includes Mahmoud, War Admiral, & another French stallion named Sir Gallahad.  The latter was a son of famed show jumping foundation sire, Teddy, & sired not only Galla Colors, but the mare Double Time, in Seattle Slew's sireline, and Betty Derr, grand-dam of Iron Reward, who gave birth to Swaps

    Slew shows Affirmed his heels
    The 1978 Marlboro Cup even featured a rare meeting of the last 2 Triple Crown winners:  Seattle Slew's refusal to give in, though, left Affirmed 3 lengths behind at the wire.  After Slew left the track with a career racing record of 14 firsts & 2 seconds in 17 races, earning $1,208,726, he sired well over 100 Stakes-winners & was a champion Broodmare sire.  Even though Affirmed was the last to take the big trophy, it was Slew that earned the title of 'the most complete thoroughbred the industry has ever seen.'

    It's a close call, though, when you watch the magic of Secretariat's unforgettable Belmont... 

    July 26, 2014

    Guest Blogger Returns & So Does The Original Flying Solo!

    David at Blenheim (Small)
    David & Red at Blenheim c. 2000 (via O'Brien Eventing site)
    [eventer79:  I remember my very first lesson with David O’Brien, in the spring of 2009.  The scene is so vividly imprinted on my senses because, as I walked Solo into the arena, I was so nervous that my hands were shaking.  I don’t get nervous.  

    Strangely, there was something about David’s quiet, friendly patience combined with the mind-boggling fact of this guy who had galloped his Irish TB, Fox In Flight (Red) around Blenheim & Fair Hill International, who I’d watched in the Rolex dressage arena, whose wife, Lauren, I’d photographed and cheered for when Dunrath Alto was eating up the KHP course for breakfast, that intimidated the hell out of me.

    How was it that he was not only willing to teach me, but also give me his undivided focus, clarity, & respect for my earnest efforts to convince Solo that his butt was not just for holding his tail on?  

    I’m not a “starstruck” kind of person, but that day, that arena entrance became a bridge linking childhood years at Rolex, when I thought that eventing was only for an elite horse & rider, to the discovery as an adult that nobody-me could be ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE.  Ok, not the Rolex people, but a slightly slower & more comically stubborn version.  

    I feel lucky indeed to have hitched a ride to a friend’s farm that day.  And I still get ridiculously excited about every opportunity to learn more “David-isms,” although if I’m the one riding, it’s far more likely to be the same one…repeated often.

    So I couldn’t wait to drag lead Erica across that bridge.] 
    Body Demo 0 01 01-08
    David: Srsly, stop stalking me!  Erica: IKR!?
    Hey, Erica, How Did It Go??

    Over the 4th of July weekend, Team Flying Solo took a field trip down to Southern Pines. We hauled in Friday, stayed with some friends at their beautiful property [thank you, Alison!!!], ate by the pool under the eyes of some very sad dogs who clearly never ever get fed, and hit the sack.

    The morning dawned unseasonably cool & crisp, thanks to Hurricane Arthur, and I tried to keep my mind occupied on getting Mr. Shiny looking, well, shiny.  Luckily we weren’t sure WHICH of Tanglewood Farm’s 27 beautiful arenas was our rendezvous point, so I had a chance to breathe as we wandered.  Don’t mind us, just a couple clueless poor people, nothing to see here…

    The Lesson

    After a “getting to know you” chat, David quickly assessed & assigned.  As all warmups should, we were to be first, forward, and second, bending.  Solo showed up ready to play and he felt great; I think we had some really nice moments while David helped finesse my position.  I apologize for anyone who has watches the videos, it’s got to be somewhat annoying to hear “shorten your reins” that many times, haha.  [eventer79: Why do you think we watch videos of lessons?  So we can get the benefits without sweating!  Besides, I’m sure NO ONE else out there EVER rides with their reins too long; I know I never, ever do. *quickly takes down all videos of self riding ever*]

    Warming up at the trot.  You’ll see David almost immediately puts Solo on a classic figure-8; this is a fantastic exercise for any warmup because it engages the horse’s mind with the changes of direction and the latter also supples his body more quickly by asking the muscles on both sides to actively stretch and contract at shorter intervals.  The pattern also helps both horse and rider settle into a rhythm, while keeping the human brain & body busy enough with steering to avoid the stiffening & over-riding temptation of a single circle.  May or may not contain a cameo of up & coming Phenomenal Rider/Trainer/All-Around Awesome Person Andrew McConnon schooling the freaking adorable Jack Reacher at 4:19.

    Continuing the Circle of Death at the canter.  Yes, I remain a heinous videographer.  I wish I could have gone in the arena, but I had to supervise a certain brown nose-r.  I also remain incapable of remember that the camera’s mic picks up MY STUPID COMMENTARY TOO.  *facepalm*  I would mute it, but the value of David’s teaching trumps my own embarrassment (meh, I’m used to it).

    Solo Canter Warmup
    I'd say they got moving...
    I have to take a minute here to acknowledge what a great instructor David is. He was direct, positive, and never once made me feel like my skill level was beneath being worthy of his time.  It was one of the best lessons I’ve ever had.  [aaand my job here is done, folks :D]

    And Then You Jumped Solo?  Really?  Really??  Really??!  [hells, yeah, she did!]

    We started out with three ground poles to a small cross rail, just trying to get me to relax going through it.

    From there, the second x-rail went up, then finally a small vertical, each with a one-stride placing pole. Solo did his land & root & scoot a few times after the last element, which nearly had me unglued.  My mantra changed from “shoulders back, neck strap” to “you can’t wuss out on David.”   [Now you’re truly a part of the Team; the latter is my strategy…for pretty much every single lesson with him, LOL!]  

    David stops us and breaks down body elements critical to riding out the line:  for me the take-home message was to think not about slowing Solo down but rather bringing his front end & balance up.

    Fine-tuning the exercise.

    They Did It!

    We finally made it through the grid quietly & confidently!

    And Then…

    …the magic happened.  [I love lightbulb moments!]

    The last exercise David had us do was to simply ride a circle with a single jump on it.  [eventer79 was devastated by being unable to capture this on video, but she had to get on her horse]  We started at the trot, then brought it up to the canter.  I sort of wish we had started with this, though perhaps if I hadn’t gotten to it at this point of the lesson, it wouldn’t have been such an epiphany [see evil footnote].  The grid work seemed to bring out my clingy, panicked side, & I white-knuckled through it, but with this exercise I was able to establish a rhythm & just…ride it.  All of a sudden, it was like “OH! You mean, shorten my reins. And sit up. And put a monster half halt on going around the turn & then let go.

    Solo's Final Gymnastic Jump
    Balance getting better!
    Untitled 0 01 30-30
    No worries, minion, I got ur butt.
    I get it! I was nearly in tears cooling down.  [I confess I couldn’t keep the grin off my face when, approximately every two minutes, all the way home, Erica would turn to me and yell, “I DID IT!”  Epic Moments In Life.  I kid you not, her FB update that day:  "So, uh, when I said we moved to NC because of the job market & cost of living?  I lied.  I moved to NC so I could trailer down to Southern Pines & take amazing jumping lessons with 4-star eventers."  *insert moar grinning*]

    We’ve naturally now got tons of homework to do & reviewing the footage reveals that it’s pretty much all mine.  [it’s always us, sigh]  But that, folks, is how Erica found her jumping position and how Solo has resumed his flying.
    Erica Flying Solo Edits
    There's no feeling like it -- welcome to the Flight!

    Footnote Revealing Pre-Existing Evil Plot

    [eventer79:  I must now reveal my cruel strategery.  Solo has always been rush-y going through gymnastics because they are very hard for him.  Even low, slow ones, ask a horse to shift his weight back to his hocks and use his back, both weak points for my boy, so he worries.  These very tiny ones don’t hurt him, but he does have a Lifetime Exemption from bounces and most other gymnastic exercises.  I know David’s system and I knew Erica would find these unsettling, and now I am going to admit I did it on purpose.

    Want To Go Faster
    Letz go faster!! However, note perfect rider balance here!
    I’m no stranger to “speed” anxiety and I used to be drop-dead terrified of downhill jumps.  To this day, I won’t get on a bolter due to an accident when I was about 9.  I STILL get a tweak sometimes.  But Solo was the horse who taught me about trust.  It’s not an overnight process & it’s ok to be afraid, but I know he will always be safe.  I also unfailingly install an emergency brake on my horses, heh.  I would NEVER say, “Just get over it,” but I saw in that lesson the perfect opportunity for Erica to experience that critical first step.

    I believe in always setting a horse & rider up for success; the best possible environment for this moment, for Erica & Solo, was in a clearly enclosed arena with level, perfect footing under the instruction of David’s calm, methodical, & positive expertise.  He is a teacher who brings out the best in you because, as he matter-of-factly directs you to “go do this thing that makes your eyes bug out,” the systematic manner in which he has prepared you and his quick reassurance of everything you did right make up the parachute which always lands you safely on “holy shit, I DID IT!”

    You can’t build anything without a solid foundation block & you can’t place the block without careful site prep.  There’s a method in most of my madness – sometimes it even works.  ;P  I AM SO PROUD OF BOTH ERICA & SOLO & I HOPE THEIR JOURNEY CONTINUES!]

    Head Profile Solo (Small) Untitled 0 00 28-21
    And THANK YOU, Erica, for the wonderful gift of seeing this look of joy & proud bad-assery back on Solo’s face.  That puts tears in MY eyes.

    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?

    March 26, 2014

    Carolina International: Ups And Downs And Ups

    Preface:  Frizz totally called me a name-dropper (shudder, my nightmare, I swear upon the FSM this is never my intention!), so I wanted to post my clarification (don't worry, most people find my babbling unclear) from the comments about the previous post (with new, added babbling, naturally!).

    BFF, Erica, ACME, Jen-S...and some dork
    What I do want to share is that there are so unbelievably many wonderful people in eventing world and by volunteering, you get to spend time with them and learn from them (dressage judges, course designers, technical delegates, ground jury members, organizers, secretaries). My effort is to raise awareness that even us smurfies DO matter and ARE appreciated to these people, and to encourage others to step in and discover that it's not just "working" but an unparalleled learning opportunity.  Eventing is so much more than horses and riders -- as I told BFF, I started participating because of XC (duh).  But I stayed for the people.

    The photo above is at the XC fence that was sponsored by the eventing forum over on COTH.  This effort was coordinated by the amazing ACME, who I FINALLY got to meet after several years of just missing each other (she lives a mile from the Horse Park; yes, we all collectively kind of hate her, only you can't really because she's so cool).  Check out the great article COTH was nice enough to put together!  Moving along.  Pat the Volunteer Coordinator Queen gave us a great fence complex and the perfect schedule (THANK YOU!).  Since we only judged the 2* and 3*, we had a chance to explore a bit and then settle in during the morning's 1* runs.  When it was time for the blue jumps (3*), just after lunch, the roller coaster of cheering and worrying began.    

    You can see the path of hoofprints hugging the curve
    BFF was assigned to fence 17 and thanks to the announcer, we learned that a Muckle Brush is a Scottish term for a "large hedge."  Funny, I would have translated it as "terrifying gap in brush barely wide enough for my horse with a huge, face-eating tree in the way."  But that's just me.  Here, it's viewed from your approach line: up a small rise and then it drops slightly on landing as well.  With the added fun of the large 2* bounce immediately next door, part of the ABC combo we judged later, so I'd say that Mr. Designer was going for an accuracy question here.

    Erica and I manned the complex at 18AB.  Meh, what's two skinny jumps? you ask.  Well, as your horse's front feet touch the ground behind 17, you have approximately one stride to make an impossibly-short-looking rollback and take three to four strides to the brushed corner at A.  Although, if you are Caroline Martin, you will use some kind of elfin magic to line up all three jumps at the perfect angle so there is not even a hint of TURN TURN TURN NOW!!!

    I'll be honest, I expected carnage and nervously parked my chair next to BFF, as close as I could get to the face of 17 without putting myself in the "trample zone" if a horse ran out.  I have mad first aid skillz due to years of work training, but I'd rather not ever deploy them.  From there, I was also next to 18A and the FEI TD requested Erica directly opposite me between the complex elements so we could have a clear view of both flags.

    Just maybe, I hoped, this will be one of those jumps with zero room for steering error that everyone will just ride excruciatingly carefully so I don't have to scrape anyone's eyeballs off of pine bark, as can happen, ahem, BFF

    Up:  I was right.  With the exception of one rider burying her horse at the base (he saved it for her anyway), it rode like clockwork all day and rather unbelievably, we didn't have a single runout all day through the whole complex.

    Mensa & Michael just three strides before 17
    Down:  As Michael Pollard came through with Mensa, I was so excited to see this incredible horse in the flesh.  After sailing effortlessly over 17, they both made the turn was then I watched a display of great heart.  Mensa failed to read the jump at 18 quickly enough, but had such momentum, he had a split-second of indecision at the base of 18A.  Instead of spinning into a wicked runout or just saying no, this little bay gave an incredible effort to do his job for Michael.

    However, by then, his chest was too close to the upper log and instead of successfully jumping, he caught his left foreleg on the flag and his chest slid through the brush (the essential element that gave the fence the forgiveness that no doubt prevented a far worse outcome) sideways, dragging his hind end with it.  Unable to stop the force of half a horse's worth of muscle and trajectory behind him, Mensa landed with his shoulder on half of Michael (Do. Not. Like. Rider-Smooshing at my jump!).  Somewhat miraculously, I was barely to the fence as both popped to their feet, Mensa to gallop back to the horses gathered at the vet box behind us, and poor Michael to stagger out of the line of fire, despite my desperate attempt to convince him to catch his breath for a minute.

    Michael & Halimey rock the 2* 16AB, looking for C
    Up:  Medical was, somehow!, already there and gathered up a rather grass-stained Pollard for in-barn inspection.  Mensa was quickly snagged by a groom and both appeared to have escaped injury.  Which made it that much greater when, shortly thereafter, Mango (Ballingowan Pizzaz) and Michael hopped effortlessly through the same line and kicked its ass for 3rd place, followed by placing 2nd in the 2* with Halimey AND the Open Intermediate with Kyra.  And if you didn't already love Pollard Eventing enough, Michael was the first to hit the dance floor that evening at the competitor's party with his toddler daughter and her flashy-light sneakers.  Awesomesauce.

    Down:  Becky Holder and Teddy (Can't Fire Me) looked fantastic and jumped around clean, but Teddy's opinion that show jumping poles are completely unimpressive meant that two pulled rails the day before kept them out of the top ten.

    Nobie & Busta visit Stonehenge in the 1*
    Up:  Becky Holder and Teddy (Can't Fire Me) looked fantastic and jumped around clean!!  She also placed 7th in the 2* with a double clear course aboard Frodo of the Shire.  And I got to talk briefly with Nobie Cannon, one of her students who got to be amused by my silent Becky Stalking last spring (doubtlessly why she remembered me, LOL), before she and a seriously grown up Bust A Groove tore out of the start box and jumped a clear round.  A more sincere and generous group of women is hard to come by.

    Down:  I was also rooting for Nobie's compatriot Sarah Beth Anton and Blitz Volo (also in 1*).  Sadly, she got dumped in the water, as did Leslie Law on the fantastically named Fernhill Whatever, against whom Encore and I competed in his brief lower level years.  Happily though, all parties were unharmed aside from the discomfort of wet panties.

    Wundermaske is WunderWOW with Sharon White
    Up:  I got to laugh hysterically when the announcer noted that Nobie had left her saddle in the vet box.  Sorry, Nobie, I laugh lovingly -- I would TOTALLY walk off, oblivious that I was missing a huge and obvious piece of my tack, so you are not alone.  I also got an wonderful and unexpected surprise in the appearance of Pat (a different one, ha), one of my favourite co-workers from Waredaca 3DE and owner of the gorgeous A Bit Better Farm just down the road from Waredaca in MD, whose daughter, Kelley Williams, a lovely and gracious pro rider, I FINALLY got to meet after years of stories, as well as another unexpected dear friend and her family who live in SoPines, as her husband is often event farrier (this time with his brother) at CHP (if you see him at future events, always tell Adrian thank you, he is excellent, one of the nicest people ever, and so kind to the horses).

    Down:  Since I couldn't stay for Sunday, I missed seeing both friends and horses who participated in the Horse Trials.  Damn you, life responsibilities.

    Up:  I did get to see Grace Fulton, whom, along with her dad, Steve, and her sister, Savannah, I've cheered for repeatedly at the Waredaca T3DE, as she completed this weekend's 1* aboard Sharon White's Wild Orange.  This horse is a stunning mover in the dressage arena and Gracie is a beautiful rider.  I feel a bit like I've watched, at least in part, the girls grow up!

    Colleen Rutledge & Shiraz have room to spare
    Down:  When Buck Davidson came through on his last 3* ride of the day, Petit Flower, I could see as soon as he landed after 17, he was riding tired.  They didn't quiiiiiiite make the turn and the mare attempted the jump, but hit the left corner and slid off, taking the flag down with her.  I lost sight of both and was sure Buck had fallen off in the flailing, but they reappeared in proper vertical order.  A then-limber (get well soon!) and very dapper Boyd Martin, who was walking several students around, sprang in and replaced the flag (hey, that's on him, a jump judge should never step in, barring a safety hazard, until the jump is cleared) as Buck and Flower made a tight circle.

    Up:  The pair cleared the jump and finished the course with only a small scrape to the horse from the log encounter and Buck nabbed an impressive 2nd place with his equally impressive veteran partner, Reggie (Ballynoecastle RM).

    TFS + COTH.  Yeah, I did, dorkiness has no shame.
    Down:  This picture-perfect, sunny day at 74 degrees and a light breeze, strewn with amazing equine athletes at all levels, did not last forever.  And Jimmy Wofford went home immediately after the evening pep talk, so I did NOT get to fangirl his signature into my book.  And somehow, I was under the impression that team members were going to speak at the dinner, dangit, how did I get that wrong?  Nonetheless, a massive thanks is due to Karen Stives, who used to live in SoPines and who was a title sponsor of this event, an incredibly generous act (among many!).

    Up:  I got to spend this picture-perfect, sunny day at 74 degrees and a light breeze, strewn with amazing equine athletes at all levels, with two great friends.  It was a MUCH-needed therapy indeed and a very special day in my stress-packed life.  Despite times when I feared my head might explode from sensory over-stimulation of exciting things in all directions, I am so glad I signed up and got to be a tiny part of this event on its birthday, which was wildly successful.  No matter how late we get home, there is no way to put a price on that.
    The pros at work

    March 23, 2014

    Carolina International CIC*** & HT: More Awesomeness Than Blogger Can Hold

    Trademark CHP stands rise behind CIC*** #16
    Should I just put all the adjectives up front?  Amazing fabulous wonderful gorgeous jaw-dropping beautiful incredible inspiring even-greater-than-expected phenomenal wow breathtaking...I'm sure I could keep going but my brain is still tired and stunned!  If you followed the sporadic outbursts of our Twitter/FB live posting (thanks again, Erica, for putting the pics up, my phone can't do that), I hope I succeeded in my goal of annoying the crap out of at least one person all day.  If not, hey, it's still up there, if your boredom is so deep that you'd like to pretend I'm babbling in your ear from 6 am to 10 pm.

    While a full report on many fronts will come once I can put it together (as my blogger buddies know, putting together a meaningful post takes HOURS - or maybe that's just me...), there are few things I have to blurt out share while they are still a fresh grin in my mind.  I had a great time seeing familiar friendly faces and catching up with so many Adult Rider, volunteer/staff, & other eventing peeps, so:  Hai, it was wonderful to see you, Pat, Cindy, Foy, JJ, Dana, Sue, Bill, Jennifer, Nobie, Becky, Jen, Alison, Adrian, Alexis (heee, I love that your family is AAA), Jeff, Ross (ok, I never could catch you to say, but I did mentally when I saw you at dinner, LOL), Sarah Beth (I didn't get to talk to you, but saw you gallop by and I hope you are all dried off and ok!), Gracie, Suzanne, and Steve!!!  I'm sure I forgot someone, mea culpa.

    Will Faudree & Land des Feuers open CIC*
    Thank you SO MUCH, Erica, for driving down and back and being a great friend and volunteer buddy, and BFF, for being able to join and and I am so glad you had fun, I absolutely love watching people discover the sheer awe and wonder of sitting 20 feet from a **** horse as he navigates an eyeball-bugging complex like it was a set of ground poles.

    Things I Learned and Awesome New People
    (just get used to the word awesome a lot, despite my hatred of repeated words in writing)

    Kelli Temple is not only super cool and friendly, but more fun than a crate of bouncy balls.  She joined the TFS Trio Dinner Table Of Poor Peons with two of her working students (who, geez the horse world is small, I have both watched and cheered for as they navigated our beloved Waredaca T3DE).  Upon seeing the eight empty champagne flutes set up with the centerpiece (they go big or go home in SoPines), Kelli immediately popped up, ran to the bar, and returned entire bottle, as a true eventer should!  She promptly made sure all eight glasses were full (for the six of us, of course) and everyone was set for beer and wine.  I love her.

    Hugh Lochore is indeed a world-class, bar-none course designer.  I confess my head exploded when we arrived at our post for the CIC*** division and the first thing I saw was this...thing:

    Erica is not that much shorter than my 5'9"
    But Hugh is truly in that excruciatingly small class of designers that can make this a "simple" rider accuracy question among a beautiful and deceptively challenging course, yet ensure that any equine or human mistakes are only penalized by a refusal, runout, or in a few cases, rider falls.  But NO rotations, NO equine ambulances, & with the exception of one unfortunately extremely hard encounter with the sand after a loss of balance, no lasting rider injuries.
    Really want to ride one of his courses now!
    Oh, and he is charming, hot, hilarious, adorable, generous, friendly, down-to-earth, attentive, AND straight (which is why on Facebook, I have named him "The British Unicorn") -- I would like to hate his wife, but I am told she is beautiful and friendly and kind, as well.  I hope he...snores really loudly or something.  ;P  I love him.

    Dom Schramm is just as easy to talk to as he seems; I had to stop him at dinner and thank him for providing me with entertainment, although I had to admit that I had not yet seen "How Horses Eat Their Food, Part Deux," to which he replied, "WHAT??!!  What else could you possibly be doing?!"  He did concede that my employer expecting me to do actual work at work was an acceptable excuse.  I love him.

    The no-one-else-even-came-close-I-don't-care-how-famous-your-name-is, best ride of the day through our insane complex was Caroline Martin and Quantum Solace (she is 18, geez).  She lined up all three jumps (17-18a-b) on the foot-perfect approach and as soon as her horse took off, her body never budged from its impecabbly soft, balanced center and I didn't even see a rein move as her Argentine sporthorse gelding floated through like hunter, responding instantly to the turn of her head and lightning-fast eye.  Incredible.  The only other pair that came close, and were also just exquisite to watch, were Rachel Jurgens and Ziggy (he is an OTTB the same age as Caroline Martin, LOL, and ran Rolex last year!).  Starting 3 strides out from 17, she looped both reins of her Pelham and floated her hand in immovable softness, anchored in an incredbly strong leg and core, all the way through without so much as a twitch.  I love them.

    Buck and The Apprentice are 1st to leap #17
    Buck Davidson really is an incredibly gracious, generous, and kind person.  And I almost didn't recognize him at the volunteer briefing Saturday morning; he and Caroline came to say thank you to everyone before riding (awesomeness), he has lost a bunch of weight and was looking very stylish indeed (hanging out with Faudree??)!  But not only did he make that special effort, as he walked our complex for the second time (he overshot the line with his first ride, The Apprentice, although that veteran horse still made it look easy, so came back out to make a better plan), he made conversation with BFF and I.  Laughing after I noted he had, what, ten more tries to get it right, Buck again thanked us so sincerely for being there.  Classy.  Dude.  I love him.

    Both Arthur and Manoir de Carneville (Tate) are even more incredible in the flesh than they look in photos and video.  Arthur in particular is stunningly gorgeous and Allison rode him superbly; both hers and Sinead's special partnership with their horses was more than evident!  I love them.

    David O'Connor really does cry at every milestone/pep talk/special occasion.  Upon introducing the 1984 gold-medal-winning Olympic team of J. Michael Plumb, Jimmy Wofford, Bruce Davidson, Torrance Watkins (who competed two horses at T this weekend!), and Karen Stives (the first time all five were together in 40 years, wow), he choked up into tears at the end.  I had to giggle a little, knowing how hardcore and stoic Karen is, wondering how often she rolls her eyes and throws a box of kleenex at him, hee.  I love his adorableness.

    Sinead Halpin and Tate: so in tune
    There are more, but a certain blogger is running out of steam.  But I cannot close the post without one more thing:

    THANK YOU to the Carolina Horse Park, Jane Murray, Bobby Costello and the organizing committee, Hugh Lochore, Tyson Rementer (Stonehenge?!  Seriously?!), Roger Haller (FEI TD & best XC judge briefing I've ever heard) and all of the TDs, our fabulous friend, Foy Barksdale for being secretary bar none,  JJ Johnson for always being the best XC control ever, all of the sponsors, all of the volunteers, and especially Pat Gibson for all of her cat herding as volunteer coordinator:  you all brought to life a top class event with so many wonderful, special touches that made it truly unique in all my years of attending and working events.  I love all the peoples.  Combining the generous hospitality of Southern Pines with the open, welcome, positive, and fun atmosphere that eventers never fail to create, resulted in a feeling that I was a part of something great, even as a nobody smurf.

    As we wound down the night and headed home, endurance racing BFF remarked, "If this is part of your evil plan to convert me to eventing, it's working."  (*gasp* Evil?!  Sounds like a great plan to me!)

    Stay the bomb and gallop on, all my fellows in the eventing community!  You truly do rock, indeed.