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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label cross country. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cross country. Show all posts

August 30, 2014

Free Riding Clinics For You! A TFS Redux.

God spake to me...and 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. 

May 3, 2014

The "I'm Working A Three Day & Can't Use My Words" Picture Dump

The trailer of chaos -- three people.  17 radio channels (or that's what it felt like, I used 3).  But I LOVED my new job!  Meanie control lady for Phase A/B/C who verbally "glares" at you when you don't answer your radio?  That's me, haha!  Trained by the Goddess of XC Control skillz, JJ Johnson, on the left, handling Phase D and 10 other things.  David the Marvelous Announcer (you'll hear him at our Carolina Horse Park schooling trials!) gets free entertainment all day in a radio sandwich!
Holder Event Team Veteran Nobie Cannon & her sales horse, Red Fury, show how it's done and move up to 2nd place in the N3DE!!! You might remember her & Busta from the Carolina International CIC* in March.

I guess it's a new trend?  Our token BN3DE Haffie, Whinney the Pooh, adorably toted his young rider around and had a blast the whole time.  :D
Hey, we work long days.  Things get a little slap-happy...but I felt our secretary needed some love!
The Big Shuffle after endurance day:  despite what folks might claim, it's still not just a dressage test!!
And a shake-up in Novice too -- these are championship level courses, but always fair and safe.  If you want to see the finish of Phase D, though, you'd better have your homework done.
 

Tomorrow, this pretty plank fence and many more will host equine fly-overs (although CD Marc Donovan will be quite disappointed if he doesn't catch a few out with some rails, but after walking the course with him, I don't think he'll have to worry about that).  Hint:  terrain matters.  I've got more shots  from the SJ course to share and further adventures of "dork at large with very slow golf cart."  I just need a week of sleep.  And if you can't wait, check our Facebook page for some pretty impressive dancing from our organizer, judges, TD, and volunteers!!

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?

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 and...it 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 with...an 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.   

March 21, 2014

Notes From The Madhouse

Be forewarned:  an unbelievably horrific three day long work assault meeting has left many brains crippled, so sense is not to be expected in any of the following statements.  And I hope CHP doesn't mind me borrowing a couple of their awesome graphics!

Dancing Dining With The Stars
TFS will be packing up and heading south this evening to participate in the long-awaited and tantalizingly star-studded Carolina International CIC*** and Horse Trial entrance onto the world stage!  Not only is it a qualifier for the 2014 Adequan Gold Cup series, but it brings a spotlight to our very favourite competition grounds, the Carolina Horse Park, about which I've written so many times.

Bruce Sr., Torrence Watkins, J. Michael Plumb, Karen Stives, and The Wofford
Alongside BFF and Solo's (hopeful) new minion (oh, what should her nickname be???  Blog Stalker?  No, that sounds too negative, although I love blog stalkers -- She Who Longes Children?  LOL), I'll just call her Erica, for goodness sake, we shall oogle and analyze the FEI*, **, and *** XC riders as jump judges.  If you haven't checked out the entry list already, well, what, do you live under a rock????!  Becky Holder Event Team, Colleen Rutledge, Kate Chadderton, Jan Byyny (currently sitting in first place after a lovely dressage test -- follow the link for video), our Carolina Will's, Faudree and Coleman, our new 'neighbour', Doug Payne, along with Arthur and Tate and Shiraz and Teddy and Wundermaske and William Penn and Pirate and Catch A Star and...dinner with the 1984 Gold Medal LA Olympic Team (Jimmy Wofford, Bruce Davidson, Karen Stives, Michael Plumb, and Torrance Watkins)!!! *fangirl implosion* And many many more eventing friends and 'family' that, well, we are hoping will wander by our chair on their coursewalks, because frankly, judging 300+ horses, I can tell you from experience, doesn't leave a lot of time for social calls.

(left) Can't Fire Me (Teddy) watches as Courageous Comet gives Dad a lesson at the winter farm in 2013; I bet I won't catch Teddy lying down on Saturday!

Related Online Crap
To the best of our ability, TFS will be live-tweeting (oh my cod, I'm so embarrassed I just typed that) from the event tomorrow, so you probably want to go ahead and follow us now so you don't miss out on the unmatched randomness and hilarious dorkiness that is our trademark!  Oh yeah, and The Becky StalkingI've also started a series of sometimes exciting, sometimes ironic, always entertaining #farmownerdiscoveries, as those of you who follow us on Facebook have probably discovered.  Like/follow/click/tap (take your pick from our media shortcuts in the sidebar) and join the insanity!  

Flying Solo Farm Stage:  Implementation
Crossties are up and fence tape is charged and mats are down and feed is stored and neighbours are supplied with excessive amounts of emergency contact information.  The door, my friends, at long last, is not only open, but strewn with bits of hay and mud and cat hair.  In addition, speaking of cats, one of them puked on the carpet recently, so I guess it's definitely home now. 

Blogger Mental Health & Plans For The Spring Season
The former is long lost.  The latter:  try not to starve, dream of times when you could purchase diesel, fatten up orange bellies after move stress shrinkage, remember how to ride a horse, learn our new trails, annoy visit with new neighbours...

And above all else, drink in the moonrise over MY east line of oak trees while a grey fox yips, at least four species of frogs sing across the pond, a great-horned owl greets the stars, and a brown bat makes adorable swoops after the first tiny insects of the year.  Through the bone-deep fatigue, those long-missed melodies are indeed balm for a great many things. 

Sunset over our creek pasture

December 18, 2013

Oh Yeah, By The Way, I Did Remember To Turn On The Helmet Cam...

...on the only course I didn't finish, heh.  But I did capture Encore's awesome leaps over 1-4 & his first coffin at 5 (and they named it the "Sunken Road," ahahaha!).  Bonus:  if you crank your speakers up, you get to hear "I always forget my camera has a microphone" dorkiness!  Hey, Bill is my favourite starter of all time & sent Solo & I out of the box throughout our career, I get excited.


December 3, 2013

That Other Horse Trial That We Mostly Did

You may flog me.  It was almost a month ago!  But hey, on the plus side, perhaps I can actually tell the story concisely now (AHAHHAHAHA!).  I sort of vaguely remember what it feels like to ride my horse...

Huge thanks to Cabin Branch Tack Shop for sponsoring!
If you missed it, Encore & I did our last event of the season in early November at the Carolina Horse Park.  Their Cabin Branch Event Series of schooling events has really taken off & I extend a huge thanks to the organizers & course designers, Marc Donovan and Andrea St. Hilaire-Glenn.

Oh yeah, & I moved Encore up to Training level there.

*insert pause for giddiness*

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

I did have the same problem I had at FenRidge in October:  our jumping time was 40 minutes after our dressage time.  Sigh.  Serious pitfall of one-day event.  But I resolved to just be as efficient as I could & this time, I was not going to short-change my horse's warmup no matter what.  I certainly couldn't have pulled it all off without the help of once-again awesome crew!

Thank cod I was able drive down the afternoon before to walk the XC course, since I was riding my dressage test at 8:30 in the morning.  I walked it twice before it got dark, decided it looked fun, with great questions, & just right for Encore.  Thank you, Andrea!!!

After a night with good friends & as much sleep time as could be managed, we made our way back to the Park & got ready for dressage.  Warmup was uneventful but not spectacular.  I'd use the same words to describe our test.  Encore got tense at entry & I tried to ride it out but he never let the tension go; his trot work was choppy & tight, but he did give me some canter that I quite liked!  Baby steps.  So our 39 was very fair.



From there it was pretty much a mad dash to change outfits & get back to SJ warmup ASAP.  I was extremely glad I decided to put his studs in before dressage.  It was a bit nervewracking hoping Encore wouldn't step on himself, even though they were only my small road studs, but he was nice enough to keep his feet away from each other & it was a lifesaver.

I kept it short & sweet in the jumping warmup as fitness was my main concern.  He really hadn't been back in work after his feet healed for much more than a month, so I was on high alert for signs of muscle fatigue.  Not that you could tell when he turned into a jump-seeking missile after entering the ring.  His own feet couldn't even keep up.

We did make that crazy time though & only demolished the first one...because I stared at the stupid jump.  Will I never learn?  It was a tight, extremely roll-back-y course that caught us both a bit off guard & Encore has not mastered that technique yet. 

That day I learned I have the most honest, try-ing-est, generous horse ever.  Even though we lost most of our impulsion in the turns & approached some jumps with me squeezing like mad & Encore at nearly a jog, he never ONCE tried to runout, refuse, & he tucked his hoofies up over each one with intense care.  By the second half of the course, he had it figured out!



I was very proud & let him take a long, slow walk to catch his breath before XC.  You can see the pro photos here, thanks to High Time Photography.

After jumping a single wide bench in warmup there, we headed out to the start box in the middle of the steeplechase track.  Encore already had his game face on & practically dragged me to the starter.  The course had a bit of everything & a LOT of terrain, so I was very interested to see what kind of ride I would get.  At the same time, I was prepared to walk off if anything felt off.

I'm very sad the photographers did not capture any of the first four jumps.  They were all single fly jumps, including a table whose width the horse did not see until they were very close & a tall bench, which I personally hate.  Aside from a very small dip, they were all on a pretty level stretch.

I can jump whatevs, mom, no worries
Fly is exactly what Encore did.  He jumped each one perfectly out of stride, rocking himself back before the jump & clearing it like child's play.  It felt amazing.

Then we went downhill to approach the little coffin at 5, which you can see in the photos.  From the elephant at the end of my reins, I gathered that his butt muscles were beginning to tire.  I did an interesting tree-maze-dance to bring him back to a trot & rebalance before turning to the first coffin element.

He peeked, but with encouragement, he jumped through & then we picked our way down the steep hill to the GINORMOUSLY MASSIVE trakehener at 6.  I don't generally have a problem riding them & have never had an issue in competition.  At a schooling, sometimes I forget I'm supposed to use my legs, but on course, I'm generally good.  This thing was big, though.  BIG.

I  kept my eye up, applied all my aids, but Encore skidded to stop.  It didn't feel like a scared stop though, & he's jumped large ones before, it felt like an "wow, that is a really big effort & I'm not sure I've got that much in the tank" stop.  My red flag waved, but I decided to let him have one more try.  We gave it a big, positive ride, but he stopped exactly the same way.

I raised The Hand & walked off.  I was 100% certain he could do the rest of the jumps on the course without a problem; he had already shown me he had the heart & scope & we had previously practiced all the questions & then some.

But it was long & it was hilly & my game, VERY professional worker-bee of a horse told me loud & clear that his muscles were not up to it.  I may have been able to stuff him over the trakehener & continue, but to what end?  I really did not want to meet the EMT's that day, nor did I want to scare or possibly injure my horse.  They don't call me Safety Nazi for nothing.

Big picture:  I thought it was a great place to end his year.  We weren't able to meet the conditioning demands in the time we had, but that is easy to fix & a good winter project.  The skills are there, now we just finesse.  If I ever have any money to compete again!

So we'll spend our cold months in the woods, trotting up & down hills & enjoying the trails, after both our bodies & brains get a good break.  I don't know if we'll get to run any horse trials next year or not, but I still get to spend the winter with my TRAINING horse & that is, as longtime readers know, a pretty big damn deal.

November 11, 2013

That Other Long Event Story Before Yesterday's Long Event Story

Oh no, you don't get yesterday's story before you get the lead-in story!  I will tell you that for those of you who don't check our FB page (you don't have to be a FB member) that Sunday at CHP, nothing bad happened, I was proud of my pony, and I retired on XC simply for safety, because I knew he was tired.

Awesome, fit Solo through the trademark FenRidge lattice in 2010.
In mid-October, as you know, I took Encore over to our much beloved FenRidge Farm for what I later learned is the last horse trial that will be hosted there!  While that makes me very sad, I can only express an enormous thanks for all that Patricia has done there, as I certainly know all too well how much work and time and stress and money and people it takes to pull these things off, even at a schooling level.  I competed Solo in their first horse trial ever and those events have been unbeatable for bringing a horse along the lower levels.  I do hope that we will continue to be able to school there and I believe she will still be doing her dressage and CT shows.

I entered Encore in the T/N division, which means that you ride Training Level dressage and stadium and finish with a Novice XC course.  It makes a nice stairstep so the horses don't get everything thrown at them at once.  I also know that Patricia loves to make a tough, twisty stadium course (which I love and is always at the perfect level of challenge!), so Encore would have plenty to take in.

I may have bought the CD just for this portrait.  Now everyone knows he's #1. 
In addition, we had the challenge of about an hour between dressage and stadium in which I'd have to change tack, walk my XC course, put in studs, and warm up.  Uh huh.  There is no measure for the amount of gratitude I have that Awesome Crewer, B was there to help!!!!  All Encore photos thanks to High Time Photography!  Early morning light is tough.

His dressage warmup was lovely.  When ARE they going to start doing that judged warmup, LOL?  But I was overambitious for our 8:28 am ride time (we were #1, literally, I kept that bridle tag, hee) and he was ready to go twenty minutes early.   No problem, I'll just walk him around and stretch.  The steward informed me in a while that the judge was about ready, so I figured one more lap and then we'd trot around the outside of the arena.  Then the whistle blew.

First mistake:  I panicked, gathered up my horse, did one quick trot circle outside of A with Encore saying, "Wait, what??  Are we doing the trotty thing again?  Weren't we done?  Which part am I supposed to do now?" and I entered.  Should have trotted around the outside anyway...

Note:  on all our videos, they are shot in HD.  You can force YouTube to play them that way by clicking the little gear icon on the bottom right of the video and picking your resolution of choice.  If you use Firefox, they also have an awesome little add-on which pushes all YouTube videos to HD automatically when they open.


Yes, that is someone apparently clicker training in the background.  I always see something new!  Despite the "pop quiz," Encore was obedient and tried hard.  I was not so good at that!  I never did get him in front of my leg and there was this argument between my brain and my body:

I tried, mom.  I had my moments.
Brain: MORON, let go of his face and GO!

Body:  meh.

Brain:  LET GO!!

Body:  Nah, I'll just stay all tense in my arms, it's what I do, man.

Argh!!  Despite all of that nonsense, Encore walked out with a 36.6 on his first Training test ever that, erm, we may never have practiced in full.  The judge did not penalize him for tripping at the end of his "lengthened" right lead canter in the corner, gave him an 8 on his medium walk (WOOT!), and a 7 on his second trot lengthening (yeah, we don't really have lengthenings yet, but I don't worry about it, dressage is always a project) with a "good effort!"  I even (thank you, ever-so-generous and helpful COTH critique crew!) managed to bump my rider score up a point from our CT a month earlier!

Stretchy circle efforts!
This, my friends, is a lateral canter.  He is very good at stepping under himself without truly engaging!
No probs, mom, blue matches my outfit anyway.
B was able to hand walk Encore while I walked XC and then retacked and studded my horse for both jumping phases.  I am glad that I know that land well -- it had rained most of the week and there is a fair amount of clay out there, so it gets slick in a hurry.  We had a beautiful day to ride on and Patricia works hard to make the footing the best it can be, but mud is mud.  So Encore got to wear his big mud studs (I'm not taking any chances with Sir Slips-A-Lot-When-Excited-About-Jumps) for the first time ever, which takes some getting used to.  Which left us with about 60 seconds of jump warmup time.  Awesome.

Second mistake:  I should have put my foot down and refused to go in the ring until we were a bit readier.  Not that it would have been very long since there were only three people in our division, but still.  We were able to do two warm up jumps while Encore got used to the soccer cleats.  The rest is all OTTB heart and try.  And yes, this silly rider needs to get her leg strength back -- we both lost muscle during the Hoof Bruise Debacle.



Both rails were my fault.  I did not have my leg on yet at the first jump.  The second was a result of my not getting a big enough half halt and rebalance coming down off the mound.  I also circled purposefully before the third jump, a big oxer on a sharp bending line of about 3-4 strides, because Encore was unbalanced and rushy on landing and it was going to be a bad approach with a potential crash.  I want good experiences!!!!
A big, focused effort over that third oxer. 
I am particularly proud of the mound jump.  It's a really great rider question that is used there often.  She sets a narrower vertical on top of that mound and for Training, the standards are moved apart so the pole is barrreely resting on the edge of the cup.  If you touch it, it will fall.  The question asks if you can keep your horse's hind end impulsion engaged while the uphill tries to suck it away.  I have learned a lot from that mound and we did it!!
Don't touch my hoofies, weird flower thing!
Another important focus, especially on this tight, twisty course, was making sure my horse's poll was UP (with leg on, yeah, sometimes I forget I have legs) in front of the jump, so he had the correct balance and didn't hurl his shoulders at it.  David is always reminding us of this and I wish I'd had the helmet cam turned on for this course, as you'd hear me before every jump saying, "Poll up, poll UP!"
Video cap (JJ Abrams style) of POLL UP as we prepare for the flower jump above.
Then it was a Novice XC course, that had some fun new elements added.  Typically, I forgot to turn my helmet cam on until after jump 6 (but hey, I remembered it yesterday before the start box!!) and somehow the lens alignment got knocked out of whack so just tilt your head left.  And I swear, I do not stare down at jumps, I just had the camera angled too far down.  Sigh.  Doug Payne, how do you do it????

I apologize if you have quality issues here.  I have some software that has communication issues with other software that has issues with YouTube, they need to work that crap out.  The clicky clack is just the plastic safety clip on the camera hitting my helmet.


I'm sad I missed 4-5-6.  You galloped down a little trail in the woods, hopped over a deeeep square ditch with water running through, took four to five strides to a big pile of branches, then three to four to a fallen tree which had propped itself way up in the air.  FUN!
5...4...3...2...1...Have a great ride!
I did take it very slow (you hear "whoa" a lot, heh).  There were some squishy spots and my goal was to school and prep to go full-on Training at CHP in November.  I never understood when pros said, oh, I'm not going for time, we're just going to jump and whatever...until now.  So we had plenty of time faults, but excellent jumping despite some rider baboon moments (throwing self at horse's ears = no).

Apple stand table second from last.
Last jump on course and oh so fitting...
Encore was a wonderful pony, stepped up to the plate even with 10 seconds of warning and, clever little brain spinning like mad, got it all done and then some.  He definitely has learned his job, the only thing I have to do is make sure he locks on to the RIGHT fences (How about this one, mom?  No?  That one!  No?  Oooo, this one?  Ohhhh, that one, ok!!) but this is a good problem.

We had a beautiful (albeit with its stressfull time crunch moments) day, a great, safe learning school, and both Encore and I felt confident and ready to tackle what Training had in store for us.  A huuuuge thanks to B, we couldn't have done it without you, and of course THANK YOU, THANK YOU, to Patricia and all the crew and volunteers not only for this event, but for each one.  I have a lot of wonderful memories (ok, and some crazy ones!) and large parts of both my horses' careers that are captioned "FenRidge Farm."  I hope we will get to make more!

A great finish for any day.