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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label Ian Stark. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ian Stark. Show all posts

August 30, 2014

Free Riding Clinics For You! A TFS Redux.

God spake to me...& I could not look upon his holy face
Ever wanted to absorb decades of experience like a little fangirl sponge from greats like Jimmy Wofford, Ian Stark, Becky Holder, or Eric Smiley?

Well, aren't you a lucky little fangirl!!  In the spirit of relaxing over the holiday weekend, for those of us who can't access FEI TV (or don't want to), I have collected, in chronological order, our hilarious spectacular performances in front of these phenomenal horse(wo)men & teachers.  I'm sure they felt just as lucky as I did.  *insert sarcasm font*

I also wanted to share with more recent readers some earlier parts of this wild journey.  I'm sure you are spending every free moment catching up on the 500+ posts since August of 2009 (where's that font again?), but in the meantime, I set the time machine in motion.  Encore & I may appear fearless & quasi-competent at times (usually when no one is looking), but those moments are built on the foundation of 1,000 stumbling blocks of trial-and-error that Solo, my un-erringly brave & accidental partner, made with me.

Have no fear, I am unoffended if you point & laugh.  I do (at myself, past AND present).
The only Olympic-quality ride Solo ever got
The Man Who Ruined Changed Solo & I For All Time (or That First Time We Met The XC Grin)
Ian Stark - Summer 2007
(Yes, I was afraid to canter my horse in an arena because he misplaced that gait.  He only had trot & gallop...except on the trail.  I'll let you guess how humbling it is after 20 years of riding, to finally have a horse & be afraid to canter it.  And yes, I did try to make an eventing legend wear my sweaty helmet.  I failed.  Then Solo nearly dumped him.  Thank cod my horse did not gain infamy as The Killer Of Ian Stark.  *horror*)

I Finally Get To Meet God
Jimmy Wofford - Fall 2008
He only whacked my horse on the ass with his baseball cap once...

Becky has not convinced Solo that dressage has merit
We Discover Eventing Mecca & I Become A Bona Fide Stalker (& My Last Clinic With Solo)
Becky Holder - Fall 2010

Ok, he can jump
The Best Christmas Present Ever & Encore's First Proper Clinic (Thanks, Mom!)
Camp Becky Holder - 10 Days of Spring Training, 2013

A Scotsman Started The Fire, An Irishman Throws A New Log In The Flame
Eric Smiley - Summer 2013

Encore's 1st Training course (Fall 2013)
Wander at will & explore the evolution!  Or save it for some rainy day entertainment.  May there be useful lessons YOU can apply next time you swing a leg over.

And not least of all, thank you to my mother, to Jim, to our amazing friend, Beth, and to the victims kind, random people I threw cameras at.  Your support made these experiences possible & each one is a treasure, both in lessons learned & the partnership forged with my horses.  Not only did these incredible teachers raise the bar on my training & riding about 47 holes, but they did so with patience, grace, generosity of spirit, humility, & humour.

For that, I consider myself lucky indeed. 

September 14, 2009

Assimilation Complete Or Course Changing Pt. III

Someone asked in the comments yesterday about my pictures -- all the pictures of my riding are taken by my erstwhile and wonderful SO, who we discovered has a natural eye for timing. Don't forget it was 110 degrees this entire weekend and my Tahoe did not have functioning air conditioning. And central SC is not exactly heavily forested. SO carried our water, took pictures, and generally rose above and beyond the call of duty at every possible moment -- you know who you are, darlin', and we couldn't have done it without you!

During day 2, the heat had hammered me terribly. Midway through our stadium phase, I became quite dizzy and felt as if I was fading away. My (some might say smarter) subconscious said, Hey, this is dangerous, perhaps you should get off. My (dumber but more adventurous) conscious said, No way in hell. So after every turn jumping, I poured a bottle of ice cold water over my head. Literally. It kept me going enough to finish.

So coming into day 3, the much-anticipated cross country day, Solo and I were both already quite hot and tired and neither of us had ANY idea what would happen that day.

The sum total of what I knew about my horse's past experience: (1) track pony (2) a little foxhunting (3) trail riding. So when we rode out onto the course and Ian asked what Solo knew, I promptly answered, "Nothing, as far as I know. He'll jump a log and is not afraid of water."

We started simple, just hopping over a Beginner Novice, then a Novice log. No problems there, sweet, I can totally be an eventer! For the second jump -- OHMYGOD ARE YOU KIDDING ME, THAT IS A GREEN WALL OF DEATH! Oh it may look innocent, but riding at it, all you see is the massive, upright green impenetrable wall waiting to engulf you and your horse.


Second time's the charm. And yes, my entire body IS in a mortal death grip on Solo going I'm gonna die I'm gonna die I'm gonna die...
But we lived!! Next was a bank complex that we climbed up, jumped on, jumped off...Solo never hesitated as Ian hollered, "Now, don't let me down, show us how it's done!" Thence began my love affair with banks (That's another person in our group on the left, showing the bank. The drop on the other side was the same height). Then off to the ditch and suddenly, we were being asked to give the green horses leads over it -- in what parallel universe had we been sucked into where my horse was a pro???


By the time we got to the water complex, I was completely incapable of keeping the big stupid grin off my face. Even the spectators were chuckling at me, saying, "Um, I think we have an eventing convert..." YES, YES YOU DO! I discovered new gears that I didn't even know Solo had, including a very impressive trot:

Yeah, like he'll ever do THAT in an arena!

By the time we were done, my goals had taken on a whole new direction: we were going to be eventers! Not only was it A FREAKING BLAST, but I knew I had found the sport my horse was destined to do -- he had just galloped and jumped that XC course like he was born for it and all I did was hang on and catch bugs in my teeth.

I stopped and asked Ian a few final questions and thanked him profusely. Never before had I encountered such a gifted and patient teacher. He has a true talent for challenging the horse and rider in a way that sets them up to succeed and to grow in confidence with every step. Besides being a beautiful rider, he has a fantastic sense of humour and is imminently approachable and down to earth. He didn't care that me and my backyard horse showed up in a rattly stock trailer -- he "quite liked" Solo and ended up impressed with the courage and heart of my reject trail horse. Ian earned every penny from that clinic out there in 110 degree southern heat all day long for three days, hopping on horses who were stuck, and encouraging many very hot and tired riders through the tough spots. He is the best kind of horseman, the kind that not only do we aspire to be, but we just love to be around.

As we packed up the trailer and got on the long highway home, I knew there was no going back now...


September 12, 2009

Learning To Fly Or Course Changing Pt. II

I don't know how, mom!
I'm spending some time on this clinic because it really DID change everything.

As we moved into Day 2 (Stadium Jumping), I was already starting to think more critically about my riding. When riding on my own at home, I would do the standard W/T/C warmup, some circles, some jumps, but wasn't really that analytical about it. I just...did it. Surely that would prepare me for anything, right? Right??? *snort*

At least I was much more confident coming into stadium day -- I was most comfortable jumping given that was what our most recent lessons involved back in 2001. And I was bound and determined to live down dressage day -- when Ian yells out in mid-buck, "Hey, you should ride this horse with a neck strap!" Sorry, Ian, but he never tries to buck ME off! And I knew my horse was brave and honest.

Reset: ok, so he didn't really get gymnastics at first and five bounces in a row was pretty intimidating. But we figured it out and I thought, Ok, we've got this. We worked on a couple of things, namely, keeping my shoulders back over the jump and not throwing away too much rein in the air.

We started here...
Jumping ahead with a lost leg, laying on Solo's neck with loopy reins. Not gonna fly in eventer land!

Finally made it to here...
Tight leg and seat, MUCH better release and ready for anything!

Time to do some courses. Ian laid it out and said go.

I looked at the first jump. I looked at Ian. "That's ENORMOUS!" I bellowed.  I'd been jumping Solo MAYBE two feet at home, like a big fat wuss that I was.

Ian kindly agreed to help me feel at ease. By taking the back rail off of ONE oxer later on the in the course. Leaving all the rest of the jumps (set around 2'9" to 3') completely and terrifying intact.

As he emphasized during the warm up and gymnastic, you must ride FORWARD FORWARD FORWARD (as I learned, Ian is BIG on forward and a rather aggressive rider in terms of approaching an obstacle). Once you're going FORWARD, go FORWARD some more.

So we racked up a pace, I attempted to beat into silence the wailing in my head that insisted, We're going to dieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee...... and I muttered, "Please, buddy, show them that I am right for believing in you."


I was so proud, I probably looked like the Cheshire cat. And it was a blast -- leg on, eye up, and we could FLY!

The only hitch was the jump before the final triple combination. I had never seen anything like it before or since. It was a panel jump, but it was a skinny. And the panel was a triangle of board with the top point pointing at the ground.

I came around the corner on the approach to that think and my head went That thing is insanely weird and scary!  Solo promptly responded by screaming, "OMG, that thing is insanely weird and scary!!!" and it was a no-go.

Ian says, "Don't look at me, look at the jump!" Oh damn, he noticed my eyes pleading at him to rescue us from this heart-stopping monster of a jump.

*sigh* Ok then...


And that guy standing in the background is NOT short. Holy crap -- I wanted to screech and whoop at the same time. Ian hollered a somewhat surprised shout of congratulations. It was so narrow that my toe actually pulled the standard over behind us, but Solo didn't touch it and he then made a perfect, balanced show jumping turn to the triple.

God, I loved my horse!

He Changed The Course Of Things To Come, Pt. I

It was a humiliating ride.

I had just spent an hour watching the group before me with lovely, springy round horses and a sinking feeling in my chest. Looking around me, there wasn't a horse to be seen that wasn't trained to the nines and not a one looked like it would sell for less than $10K. I was the only person there with a rattly stock-side trailer and a backyard horse. Most folks were friendly -- a few gave me The Look, that one wealthy people give their staff. Yeah, you know the one.

A bit of background: I actually grew up riding dressage on school horses, German trainer and all. It turns out dressage is easy when you are a 10 year old with no bad habits. It's a bitch when you are 27 and lopsided. Plus four years of college riding hunter eq...well, that dressage seat was so far gone it was like it never existed.

Looks like a 10 trot to me!
As I entered the ring with the others in my group, I was, as mentioned, slightly petrified. Solo obliged by being stiff, crooked, and notably uncooperative. Note the chestnut in the background on above. That's what we were supposed to look like. Also note Solo turning around going, You've got to be freaking kidding me.

We looked more like, well, the backyard pair that we were, sigh. And our canter, true to form, went something like this:  

Me:  Solo, for the love of god, please oh please canter nicely in front of Mr. Olympics!

Solo's response: buck-buck-buck-bolt-transition-sidestep-ugly-strung-out-canter-at-high-speed.

The man hides his face in agony - let's pretend there was a fly...
Awesome, thanks, buddy.

Then came the charming, lilting Scot words I was hoping for from Ian: "If you don't mind, I'd like to have a sit on him." I couldn't slide off fast enough and hoped he didn't really hear my effusive begging oh-please-please-fix-us!

Now Solo is a very gentle, loving horse. But he is very cautious with his trust -- he will pack around a dead beginner oh-so-sweetly, but if the person on his back knows a thing or two, Solo worries that they might hit him or rough-house him (he is NOT a horse you can force into things).

Ian Stark is an exceptionally strong rider who likes hot, talented horses like the legendary Murphy Himself, the talented Irish-bred grey. So he gets on Solo and wraps those legs around my stiff red horse and says, "Excuse me, but you WILL move forward into contact." It progressed just like this:

I don't think I like you
Who the hell are you?
You shall receive one warning only.
Get off, bossy man!
Get the f@ck off, devil man!

Looking back, I wish I had stepped in a little. Ian gave him a mighty crack with the dressage whip (accompanied by an exclamation of "Bloody horse!"), which, given some past incidents of abuse, Solo did NOT receive well and I can't blame him. Hindsight...

But overall, Ian gave him a fair and consistent ride and they ended up looking like THIS:

I never got that trot!!
And I drooled. And then I had to get back on and feel what a dressage horse is SUPPOSED to feel like. And it was amazing: I could feel Solo's back up and swinging and he was THERE, in my hands. And he was FORWARD. It felt like super-speed, but I was informed, no, that was where we SHOULD be.

Oh and all of a sudden, our canter reappeared. So apparently all we needed was a world-class rider to climb up and find it for us again. Good to know.

We can do the bendy thingz!
I left the ring that day deep in thought -- I needed to ride my horse FORWARD. I needed to bend him, I needed to sit up, I needed to change, well, everything.

I also left that day with my jaw set, DETERMINED to redeem our poor showing in the two days of jumping to follow. I knew this was where our strengths lay and I was going to show the doubters why we did indeed deserve to be part of all this.

September 8, 2009

The Man, The Legend

A sexy Solo, 11 yrs old & no idea of what lay ahead
It was the summer of 2007. Things were going ok.

My horse no longer resembled the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man; there was some actual muscle definition and his feet had grown back in strong and solid.

I was getting (a little) braver. I had learned that he would jump (just about) anything and I was experimenting out on our "cross country" course (which sadly is no more).

Feeling pretty awesome in the XC field
Most importantly, my horse was (I think) having fun. Even though we still had no controlled canter to speak of. I was successfully avoiding that particular issue.


At the same time, I was getting more and more frustrated with this whole hunter thing. Solo was fast, he had a big stride and to say he was a stylist, well, that would be a flat lie. The courses were all the same and the jumps all looked the same. Your class might start at 9 am or it might start at 2 pm and you'd better be ready for both. George Morris had failed to call and recognize our developing genius. It was frankly, bloody annoying and I wanted out.

Yeah, things were stalled in a serious rut.

An online friend gave me a tip on an upcoming Ian Stark clinic in Aiken, SC. I would love it, she insisted. He's a phenomenal teacher, she claimed.

But! I protested, What if your horse doesn't know anything and you ride like you haven't taken a lesson in years? (which Solo didn't and I hadn't)

She swore to me it would be worth it.

A bit of background: I grew up watching 3-day eventing. We were yearly attendees at Rolex in the late 80's and early-mid 90's. I loved it. But it was what REALLY AWESOME riders on MIND-BLOWINGLY AWESOME horses did and I was too chicken to even jump downhill. At a trot.

My then eventing aspirations: zero.

Ian Stark competing Full Circle II in 2006
Besides, Ian Stark was...well, look at him! The man had four Olympic freaking medals, he won Badminton three times, took 18 horses to the 4* level (when riders were Riders and eventing was Long Format!) and he coached the Brazilian eventing team. I was, OMG, so not worthy!

C'mon, take a leap! So my foolhardy subconscious told me. You can go ride with Ian bloody Stark, how often does the opportunity come around? You'll regret it forever if you don't.

I couldn't argue with that kind of logic. I sent in my check. Solo, quite cooperatively, blew an abscess two weeks before the clinic. I crapped myself in desperate panic and soaked his foot 400 times a day. I then packed everything I owned, borrowed a few more things, shoehorned my dog and my ever-patient S.O. into the Tahoe (a '96 model with 170k & no A/C) and drove to Aiken at the end of July.

It was only 105 degrees and we were scheduled to ride for three days: dressage, stadium, and then cross country.

As I rode into the dressage arena, for the first time in my equestrian life, my hands were shaking, my mouth was dry, and I was very seriously ill with a case of starstruck terror.