Sunday, May 1, 2011

Stadium Jumping: Girl Power!

I have a confession: when I heard the rolling thunder and saw the flashes of lightening when the alarm went off this morning after the alarm went off, I couldn’t help myself….I decided to wait for the SJ in the afternoon.

I understand a couple horses, including Mark Todd’s horse, withdrew before SJ; I think the XC course took a heavy toll on some horses and riders who might not have anticipated the necessary fitness. I think several of the rails we saw tumbling today could be attributed to fatigue.

Luckily, though, the sun broke through the clouds and SJ was beautiful.

Heather Morris on Slate River

Heather Morris, the TX hero, went early, but I was INCREDIBLY proud of her; she road Slate River beautifully, and she was the first rider to have a double clear.

Hannah Burnett also went double clear….well done, Hannah!

Mary King on Fernhill Urco

Probably the “golden girls” of the day, however, were Mary King, who ended up first AND second on two very different horses (shows what a horsewoman she is!), and Sinead Halpin, who ended up THIRD in her very first 4****! Go GIRLS!


Thanks to my brother and sister in law for housing us, and to Patricia and Ecogold for giving me the opportunity to meet Hannah Burnett, for the HRN spot, and for the great Q&A sessions….and thanks to Cynthia for trekking to KY with me. We both noted that we have lots of inspiration for riding now. Here’s to next year!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Day 3: Fence Judging as a Job

Phillip Dutton navigating the second element of my fence

For the sixth year in a row, I had the privilege of being a fence judge at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event. But I’m actually quite the baby; I spoke with at least three folks who’ve been doing this for 20+ years! Last year at WEG I opted to “just” be a competitor and roam from fence to fence; but there is something magical about watching every single rider—the BEST riders in the world—take a single fence, seeing how they navigate it differently.

Being a fence judge, however, isn’t all savoring each ride; it’s making sure that we pay attention to every ride in case of a problem, making sure that each rider has as close to the SAME ride, making sure that the crowd doesn’t interfere, making sure that the jump remains consistent….and sometimes we have minutes, sometimes we have seconds. While I have friends stop by and say hi, I feel bad, but I can’t spend time talking with them. I have a job to do. I have to make sure the riders have a good, consistent, fair experience over MY fence.

My fence this time was #26, the Angled Brushes. I recall a version of this fence from WEG, and I also recall some folks having a wee bit of trouble with the fence, but I wasn’t quite prepared for it to begin so quickly. Our first rider, Allison Springer and Arthur, were in third place and had gone cleanly up to us. Arthur was still “going” and since the approach to our fence was a long downhill gallop, I thought she was having trouble getting her horse back. She got to the first brush fairly flat, then he put in an extra step and launched himself through the brush (scraping his stifle), stumbling on the landing and popping Allison off.

We had several “iffy” rides, mostly from riders slowing down too much and not having enough impulsion to get over the brush and ditch handily. What I learned was that a good, forward, up, consistent ride worked. Every time. Notable was Kim Severson’s ride—she made it look like a series of bounces. Mary King was VERY forward, but also VERY balanced and consistent. Same for Hannah Sue Burnett. Bravo!

Poor Mark Todd was one of those who slowed down a bit too much, and his horse simply said “I can’t do it at this pace—I’m tired!” and ran out of the first element. He circled and took the long route and then finished the course well.

I saw a LOT of tired horses—I mean REALLY, tired, spent horses—and I wonder how the SJ will go tomorrow. The new course designer provided a challenging course, and the fact that the refusals and runouts and falls were spread out throughout the course makes me think that it was a fair course, too. Well done!

After cross country day, I always feel a little bit like the young girl in the ancient “Shake and Bake” commercial: “Mamma made fried chicken—and I helped!”. Once again, we had a successful Rolex cross country—and I helped!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Day 2 Quickies

I felt like a celebrity this morning….I got to be a guest on the Horse Radio Network! That’s right: I was interviewed by none other than Glenn the Geek himself. Jimmy Wofford was the guest before me….so in a way, my day was book-ended by JW! Here’s Glenn and Jen:

After my brush with radio stardom, we settled down to watch dressage, and I was able to see Hannah Sue Burnett put in a respectable dressage test.

We ended up making sure we knew what was in the trade fair soon after, and we missed Tiana Coudray’s first place dressage score….drat! But we watched Mary King’s ride, and it was phenomenal.

As always, Jimmy Wofford’s coursewalk was 20 minutes after dressage….and as always, that gave me about 30 minutes to watch and learn from “the Woff” before I had to attend my fence judge meeting. Just a few gems: “The first three fences are designed to get the butterflies in the rider’s stomachs flying in formation. Then they get to fence four. Fence four isn’t a fence; it’s a condominium!”


At the fence judge briefing, I ran into my good friend Nancy, a fellow fence judge since my first time six years ago. It was nice to catch up!

Tomorrow I’ll be at fence 26. Good luck to all the riders!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Day 1: Whirlwind with a Purpose!

WOW, what a day! We started, as is our custom, with a pilgrimage the Quillin Leather and Tack in Paris, KY. I really didn’t NEED anything; I have several of their great halters because they last forever….but they had just introduced green halters, and Paddy IS Irish, and our colors ARE green and black (he already had a black halter)…so I succumbed. The green halter will be shipped to me at home.

We got to the horse park just in time to watch Mary King’s ride, and it was wonderful. I LOVE that she is a woman who is, shall we say, in the “long stirrup” division (that is, she’s close to MY age), and she still approaches eventing with the giddiness of a child (but the serious nature of a true competitor!). She had a super ride….and then we were off to the Ecogold tent to meet Patricia and see what the events were for today.

I found out that Patricia had scheduled me to talk with Glenn the Geek from the Horses in the Morning Radio show tomorrow at 9:30! How much fun is that? I’ve corresponded with GTG since he worked for BOB….and he was THE FIRST (to my knowledge) to do ANY type of equestrian podcasting. So my appearance on his latest program is quite an honor!

I found out that my “private” coursewalk with Hannah Sue Burnett will be at 3:15. I cannot wait!

After finding out where HRN and Ecogold tents were, Cynthia and I hustled back to watch some dressage. I took some notes, and once again, noticed some patterns:

• Event horses don’t do transitions as well as “real” dressage horses. Could we work harder at that? Or is it the “nature of the beast”/sport?
• Still a lot of blown/late flying changes (and a few flying airs above ground!)
• Part of the test was to halt and back….and a lot of horses didn’t back well
• Only a VERY few horses had a true “square” halt, something ALL the “real” dressage horses have.
• From our perspective, the shoulder in seemed to be MORE than a horse’s chest
• Since many of the horses were so tense/tight, there didn’t seem to be a lot of bending.

I enjoyed watching William Coleman and Twizzle; he is SUCH a quiet rider! Twizzle was very obedient, and he was one of the few that, while tense, was able to bend around his rider’s leg.

I fell in love with Kelly Prather’s Ballinakill Glory; what a GORGEOUS ISH mare! I thought they had a better test than they scored.

In the afternoon, before my course walk, I was able to spend some time with Peter Atkins, of “Run, Henny, Run!” fame. A nicer man/eventer you will never meet. Cynthia and I chatted with him for 30 minutes or more….he’s having a tough time of it now (Henny had colic surgery not long ago, and there are other, extenuating circumstances)…but Peter’s bringing Henny back slowly, and the two should be (I hope) back in action in the near future.

Before the coursewalk, we watched the afternoon horses go. Like William Coleman, Kim Severson was a joy to watch ride, though I get the impression that Tipperary Liadhnan is NOT the easiest ride (though yet another really fine, balance, under himself ISH…I’m lovin’ those Irish horses!). Still, Kim is quiet and directive/supportive, and the pair ended up in 4th place at the end of the day, just after Twizzle and William Coleman.

But the highlight of the afternoon was watching a local Texas treasure, Heather Morris ride at her first Rolex with Slate River. I’ve watched this pair locally, and I know that Heather is a formidable competitor, but this is ROLEX. Even the best can choke.

Heather was brilliant. Aside from a break in her extended trot and a few late/hoppy lead changes, she had a really nice, consistent test, and she finished the day in SEVENTH PLACE with a 50.8!

I’m SO PROUD of them. Pictures coming when I can take a breath! In the mean time, GO TEAM EXPRESS!!

Coursewalk with Hannah Sue Burnett

(published on Ecogold blog, too!)

After several false starts, I was able to meet up and walk the cross country course with Hannah Sue Burnett. Hannah, a lovely, athletic, charming woman was eager to accommodate my needs (I had fractured a heel a few months ago, and couldn’t walk as fast as I used to!), and to answer all my questions as we walked. I felt like Cinderella…or perhaps Kate Middleton!

The first few jumps, she explained, were “easy”…save one, they were downhill approaches, and while the size/spread were intimidating to me, Hannah assured me that her horse would have no problem with them. “He’s very honest, and he’ll try to do anything I point him at!” Hannah assured me. She likes to see her stride and ride to it, something she’s been doing since she was twelve years old, when she rode her pony up to Preliminary.

I asked her what her favorite part of eventing, and she told me that stadium jumping was her favorite because, and I quote, she is a “control freak”. She loves the measured step, seeing the exact stride, and body control of stadium. I asked if she liked dressage, too, and she laughed; “I should, and I guess I do. I’m learning to love it. We’ve been working really hard on it, and I think we’re on the verge of a breakthrough. I’m really excited about tomorrow.” Hannah rides “Nike” at 10 tomorrow, first rider tomorrow!

Her biggest challenge, particularly in dressage, is that she expects a lot of her horses, and then fears that she puts too much pressure on them. In cross country, her biggest “bugaboo” is, believe it not, smaller fences! “When you ride the big fences all the time and are suddenly confronted with a smaller one, you lose the ability to see your stride, and both you and your horse come to it underpowered/tentative!” I can only imagine what THAT must feel like!

Another challenge that’s come to the fore only recently is that of remembering courses. “I’ve always been really good at remembering courses, dressage tests, and so forth. But as I ride more horses in competition at different levels, I am suddenly having brain farts; at Red Hills I had three horses at three levels, and while the SJ fences were the same, the courses were different. I accidently left a fence out of one of the levels that was left out in another. That type of thing never happened before! So I’m going to have to work harder to learn my tests/courses.”

I asked her how she kept positive when walking (and riding) a course, and Hannah responded that being positive and thinking ahead were some of the biggest challenges of riding. As she walks her course, she gives herself a positive pep talk, and thinks about how she’ll ride each fence—THEN she walks and thinks about thinking about the NEXT fence as she comes to the fence before it. “It’s sort of like thinking with peripheral vision” Hannah noted. What a great illustration….I’ll have to work on that!

As we finished, I asked about her “Equestrian Bucket List”. Hannah would love to be on a US team, win a medal, and ride in England.

Hannah explained that she had to hurry; she was singing at a memorial service for eventing organizing legend Rebecca Broussard. “You SING?” I asked incredulously. Yes, Hannah sings at weddings and so forth (but she gets nervous when she’s in front of people). “It’s something I’d like to do more of after I retire from eventing,” Hannah mused. “I love singing.” When I asked her what she wanted to do with it, Hannah replied: “I want to be a rock star!”

Rock on, Hannah! I’ll be cheering for you tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Guilt ande Glory

I woke this morning to yet MORE blowing winds/dust. These past months with no rain and high winds (the worst since I’ve lived here, 14 years) have given me a glimpse of what the dustbowl might have started out as. The plane was delayed in Lubbock; it couldn’t land due to high winds. Luckily, the delay was only 15 minutes, so I was able to sprint through DFW and get my connecting flight.

Before I boarded in LBB, however, I was given the opportunity to upgrade to first class. I would have to pay a luggage fee in coach…and for $20 more, I could sit in first class and pay NO baggage fee. I decided to do it, and thus began my guilt.

I’ve only flown first class a handful of times, and every time I felt guilty: why should I get special treatment? True, I paid for it, but those people in coach probably deserved it more than I did.

So as I commented on student presentations the previous day (the *#@)@*@ Chronicle of the Horse Rolex Preview Issue didn’t come in time!), realizing we had only one more class, I couldn’t help but feel that I hadn’t done enough to help these students. That started the floodgates: I left my kids and spouse for FIVE DAYS! My dogs! My HORSES! Paddy in particular, who was healing an might have NEEDED me!

And then I glimpsed out the window and saw flooded rivers and fields (when I could see between the clouds!) in Arkansas and Kentucky….and I heard on Horses in the Morning radio that the Rolex Sunken Road was now a leisure pool, and that horses would need their floaties! And I felt guilty about wanting water….

Sipping the spoils of first class, this time a coffee with Bailey’s, and nibbling on the swag (heated salted nuts) as I stretched my legs out comfortably, I thought that even the Rolex riders probably didn’t have this experience on their way in.

And this Rolex promised to be the most exciting yet for me. Perhaps it’s Karma, or the fact that I really AM mad about eventing, the sport, but my enthusiasm led to some pretty amazing opportunities this time around: private coursewalks, Q&A sessions with BNR, and meeting up with some folks I’ve only read about. I feel like the character from the SNL Wayne’s World: “I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!”

And after all the running, our plane arrived early.

But as the plane began its descent and I thought about meeting my dear friend Cynthia at the baggage claim, I started to think about what it is I am supposed to learn in this life…..compassion? acceptance? I’m working on those. Suddenly I remembered the flight attendant’s admonition that I’ve become immune to after so many flights: “In case of emergency, place the oxygen mask on your own face first, then help small children and those around you”.

Maybe that’s what I’m supposed to be learning: to follow my bliss without guilt.

So here I am. Following my bliss. Putting my own mask on first.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Counting Down.....

Once again, I'm counting down the days until I get to wallow in the ONLY four star event in the US: ROLEX! Cynthia will be accompanying me as she did last year, and we will be staying with my brother in lovely Paris, KY. This year, I feel a bit like a special agent (well, I'm "special", all right!), because I'm going to be one of the Ammies blogging for Ecogold! They have such a fun website, and Patricia has set up course walks, Q&A sessions, and even more for us to get a first hand look at what's going on from our "special" perspective....!

I'm only MOSTLY frazzled (as in "Mostly Dead") this spring, because I'm only juggling school and minor mis-haps rather than those AND competing. I was out of all but the first event this spring because my beloved Paddy fractured a splint bone in his near inside hind. He's feeling much better two weeks post I have high hopes that May we'll be back in the saddle again, getting ready for fall.

So until we're a wee bit closer to actual ROLEX time, here's to everyone staying healthy, and for safe travels and safe rides!