Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Here are some pictures from Rolex, 2005:

Kim Severson
Kim Severson, the Champion, in Mid-Air

Leslie Law
Leslie Law in Mid-Air

Andrew Hoy at Liverpool
Andrew Hoy (I think) Almost Coming Off at the Liverpool

Unidentifed Rider Crashing through the Liverpool
An Unidentified Rider Taking Out the Liverpool

Karen O'Conner
Karen O'Conner taking off at my fence, the Keeper's Brush

Rider at Brush
An Unidentified Rider taking off at my fence, the Keeper's Brush

stomping divits
Me stomping divits at my fence, the Keeper's Brush

Peter Gray
Peter Gray Doing Dressage

Jenna Schildmier
Jenna Schildmier Doing Dressage

Buck Davidson
Buck Davidson Doing Dressage

Corrine Ashton
Corrine Ashton Doing Dressage

Sunday, May 01, 2005

And So It Ends

Today was what the last three days should have been: scattered clouds, breezy, bright, and about 60 degrees. A glorious day.

The flags were whipping all around the arena, but most of the horses and riders seemed very focused. Only a few (and my notes aren't handy, so I can't recall which ones) looked at anything other than the business at hand.

Kim Severson could actually barrel through four jumps and STILL be ok--so there was little excitement other than watching a masterful team of horse and rider complete a flawless round....which was, in retrospect, quite exciting. She even opted for the more challenging route, and she and Winsome Adante handled each obstacle as if it were nothing and then took two well-earned victory laps. Bravo for them!

Karen O'Conner and Upstage showed their colors as true professionals, taking each fence perfectly and moving up as a result of the flawless performance. Eddy Stibbe and Buck Davidson also had clear rounds, which helped their standings as well. Jan Thompson on Task Force, who I liked in Dressage, had a nice round but incurred time faults.

Several of the horses, ranging from first timers to experienced campaigners, had trouble at the Liverpool, an oxer w/ water underneath. There were numerous rails down, and several refusals at this jump. Isn't it amazing that horses who can leap into water that they aren't sure HOW deep it will be are leery of a bit of water under a jump? Of course, the water was an unnatural neon blue....still, surely the "big guys" school over this type of jump, no? How can we better prepare our horses for this type of thing?

And that's one of the biggest things I've learned from this experience: preparation, from the half-halt signalling a transition, to simple backing, to practicing over different obstacles that might appear on one of the tests. Overall, attending the Rolex Three Day Event was incredible. I hope I can come back next year! Btw, there are some really great deals at the trade fair after the event. :-)

Before I forget, congratulations to Ralph and Janet Rickly, who are celebrating 62 years of wedded bliss today. Many happy returns!

Saturday, April 30, 2005


Before I begin, let me get this off my chest: Folks, if you've never been to a real upper-level event and watched these amazing horses/riders up close, you haven't seen eventing. I've watched the Rolex on TV for as long as I can remember, but what I experienced today made my TV experience pale in comparison. To all my Texas friends (you KNOW who you are) who've ever talked about coming to Rolex, I have one word for you: COME.

That said, there's probably something to be said for being able to choose the jump you're watching, and perhaps to go to more than one jump, to try to see how riders handle the course by examining various rides at different jumps. Still, I'm not complaining. As a jump judge, I was able to help out in the highest level event in the US, I was able to see how every single rider who made it to obstacle #23 handled it, and in the smallest of ways, I felt a part of something much larger than myself.

My jump, the Keeper's Brush, was about 4'7" high, with about a 9' spread. What was intimidating to me was the gaping ditch before the jump (which only a few of the horses and/or riders actually looked at), and the fairly steep downhill approach after a pretty long gallop. Even though the weather was still a bit wet--it was a bit misty in the morning, and cool/breezy in the afternoon--the ground wasn't bad, and it actually got progressively better as the day progressed. After each rider crossed the fence, several of us fence judge types would go and replace divits and check footing. Some workers came to put gravel on the downhill approach, but the footing remained good before and after my jump.

Of the first six riders, only two made it to my jump (one more did--for some reason, Andrew Hoy and Yoeman's Point went later than they were initially scheduled). I understand that the footing was a little more soggy in the steeplechase area, and Kim Severson pulled her green horse, Maguire, because he'd lost two shoes, and she wanted his first four-star to be "perfect". Others, like Cricket Worthen and Tiffani Loudon-Meetze, opted to retire on the course before reaching #23.

A couple somewhat random observations: Because Phillip Dutton had three horses, I was able to see him cross my jump three times--and he was incredibly consistent. I'm deeply impressed with this rider--he guided each horse down the hill, not really slowing down drastically like some, but allowing the horse to find a pace that was comfortable and would allow him to find a good take-off spot. I honestly believe he saw his spot a long way off, while galloping down the hill, and thus he didn't need to make major adjustments before the fence. Those who slowed down significantly often had to scramble to find a spot. Now, there were a few who didn't slow down who had a wee bit of trouble. There were those who came barreling down the hill, never slowing down, and they nonetheless seemed quite competent--for instance, Peter Gray on Balladeer Ted literally ran through the jump (and because it was a brush, they could). There was at least one horse, Bad Boy Billy with Ralph Hill aboard, who had to be aggressively ridden over (the divits in the ground told quite the story--the horse was putting on the breaks, even though Peter was yelling at the horse to GO). Several of the favorites made it over after slowing down halfway down the hill before the fence, then scrambling to find a half a stride to make a good distance--both Amy Tryon and Kim Severson did this. Others slowed down coming down the hill gradually, and took the brush carefully, like Corinne Ashton and Wendy Lewis. While they were slower, they rode more like Phillip Dutton did--except he kept the pace a bit faster, but consistent. Someone once told me that men tended to "see" the take off spot sooner and more easily than did women, and while my "data" is totally biased and subjective, it would seem to support this assertion.

I have to say that looking at the riders' faces as they came down the hill was amazing: the concentration, the effort, the THINKING that was going on.....and other emotions, too; "Buck" Davidson was a bit annoyed/frustrated with Let It Rain as the pair tore down the hill--Buck pulled the horse's head almost perpendicular to his body before the horse would slow down/ listen to him!

Some riders were thinking of this fence, and I swear others had thrown their hearts over and were concentrating on the next effort. Some were obviously concerned about this one--the ditch, the footing, the speed, etc. A few memorable fences: Each one by Phillip Dutton; Leslie Law's really nice, smooth integration of this fence into his gallop; Jan Thompson's easy concentration and athleticism.

I was also able to see the Bass Pond clearly, and only about 5 of the riders really did a good job there, particularly the first effort which asked the rider to gallop up a hill, jump an obstacle, then gallop down hill into the pond. Most got up hill, then didn't know what to do, and the horses scrambled, clambered, or somehow hopped over from almost a standstill. A handful of riders were able to ride up, let the horse know that they would need to jump through their riding/seat, then ride down. Just like in dressage, the horses who'd been prepared properly took it literally in stride; those who hadn't been, didn't. Once again, thinking ahead, and preparing your horse via your body, your aids, etc. is vital.

There are only 26 riders remaining for tomorrow's stadium jumping phase. I have tickets for that ("cheap seats"), but it won't be the same as being almost face-to-face with these incredible athletes--both the horses and riders.

Friday, April 29, 2005

My Fence

I'm an official fence judge tomorrow (well, an official assistant fence judge), and my fence is #23, the Keeper's Brush. It's a pretty straightforward fence, though it's high (over 4 feet) and wide (over a 9 feet spread!). I'm pretty darn excited; every one of these great riders and horses will have to come by me. I'll be on course at my fence by 9:15.

As a fence judge, I have a pretty large responsibility, which includes (but is not limited to): making sure the jump remains clean, safe, and no observers interfere with a horse/rider's approach/taking the jump. I need to assess if the horse refuses, runs out, or if the rider falls. If a horse or rider falls, I can help the rider, catch the horse, assist the rider if he/she would like to re-mount, etc. I need to stop the official time if this happens. If it takes a long time, I'll need to stop this rider and allow the next rider to pass before letting this rider continue.

There are several helpers at each jump. Even a straight forward jump like mine has a senior fence judge, an assistant fence judge, a communications person (who communicates scores, etc.), and another official scorer. The more complex jumps have even more people to help.

More tomorrow!

Sloshing Toward Greatness

Unlike the previous few days, today was consistent: grey, rainy, chilly. But like the previous day, I felt like I got an extended lesson in dressage by the end of the day--well worth my standing next to the fence for most of the day.

I arrived a wee bit late (I forgot my cell phone and had to run back to get it...although no one called! still, I have little boys at home, one of whom was sick, so I didn't want to miss a call), so I missed the first few rides, arriving as Eddy Stibbe and Dusky Moon were finishing. Here are some highlights of what I saw:

Leslie Law and Coup De Coeur had a lovely, smooth test, with the best walk I'd seen till then, and really nice transitions. Smooth and straight. However, the first few lead changes happened front to back, which made it look less fluid.

Amy Tryon and Poggio II also had a lovely walk--that horse is fit!--but they weren't straight in the second trot half pass, and had to correct themselves. They changed leads on cue, but Poggio II jumped and swished his tail, obviously not please (but very obedient).

Darren Chiacchia and Windfall 2 were amazing--this pair exuded the most presence of anyone else in the entire dressage field. Big, bold, springy, and uphill, this horse would be welcome on any dressage field. Excellent half-pass--straight, rhythmic, nicely crossed over, and his walk, too was swingy and free--he really stepped under himself. During the second serpentine, though, suddenly Windfall 2 changed leads (he was supposed to counter-canter), and when Darren asked for a correction, the horse kicked out in annoyance. Other than that, however, it was an incredible test, and the pair were leading the pack until Kim Severson showed up. After the test was done, Winfall looked from side to side and nodded his head to all of his adoring fans, saying without words "I KNOW I'm good--and now YOU know it, too!" That's one self-assured horse. I'm not sure the "look of eagles" applies to dressage, but he certainly knows that he's good--and he expects YOU to know it, too!

After the lunch break, it was interesting that two horses in a row were rattled by the camera--both Hawley Bennet on Livingstone and Lesley Grant on Eight Saint James Place had disobediences which were caused by trotting towards or by the camera at A. Both of these horses and riders are Canadian. Could there be a link?

Bad Boy Billy, ridden by Ralph Hill, did an impersonation of a reining horse at each stop--probably the most distinct, underneath himself stops I've seen any dressage horse do. He had a good, solid test, including a strong, swingy walk, until the reinback, where he braced and threw his head. Note to self: don't just practice the "sexy" stuff like counter-canter and lead changes!

Better I do it, ridden by Adrienne Iorio-Borden, had a good first part of the test (she may have been the one who did the lightening salute, afraid her horse wouldn't stand). This pair had another "hoppy" lead change--and I have to wonder: is it conformation? communication? timing? the electric atmostphere? or something else entirely?

It was obvious that the crowd was pulling for last year's victors, Kim Severson and Winsome Adante. They had perhaps the smoothest, most consistent test I witnessed during the two days of dressage. One thing I noticed: before they even entered the arena, Kim took "Dan" past--then around--the cameraman to the side, as well as close to some children who were running scores and other camera operators. She prepared him well, both before and during the test. While her horse's extended trot wasn't as big or impressive as Windfall 2's, he was smooth, obedient, and fluid, using his hind end really well. They had the cleanest lead changes of anyone, making it look easy and fluid. When they were done, the crowd roared--everyone knew it was a solid test.

I'm sorry to have missed Australian Andrew Hoy's ride yesterday, because what I saw today was quite impressive. While he wasn't completely square on his halt, this horse had a wonderful, light, bouncy gait, and he and Andrew were "on". Smooth, obedient, and with some real energy, their only real fault other than the start was at the end, when the horse gave a tiny buck at the last lead change.

Poor Let It Rain (such an appropriate name for today!) and "Buck" Davidson didn't have a particularly strong ride--and I use that term purposefully. They simply weren't "on", and I got the impression that the horse was holding back. They had a fair test (obedient, but not impressive) until the reinback, at which point the horse reared, and it was downhill from there. This was right in front of the camera at A--do you suppose the horse is Canadian?

Phillip Dutton had three rides in the last two days, and this was the only one I got to see--which was a pity, for this ride, the last one today, was quite impressive. Nova Top started out a little "jiggy" at the halt, but got down to business with some really nice trot work. His walk, too, was swingy and ground-covering, but he, too, changes leads first in front, then behind a step later. His second serpentine was better, though.

I know that, as a relative newcomer, I can only see what I can see--that is, what my untrained eyes can see--it makes me feel pretty good to know that, based on my sketchy notes, I would have placed the pack fairly similarly to where they are now, so I feel good about my gut instincts. You can see the leaderboard at the main Rolex link to the right.

What I learned today:

*Being straight cannot be over-rated.
*A good walk is really hard to achieve.
*ALL horses need preperation for any change if it is to look smooth--even if that preparation is getting straight!
*A good downward transition is beautiful.
*Dressage riders need to practice everything, nut just the hard stuff.
*A forward going, obedient horse can beat a big-moving, showboat who isn't consistent

Since we had such a long lunch break, and since there were so many of the riders who were signing books, etc., I couldn't resist joining the crowd. Feeling like a groupie, I got my Life in the Galloping Lane signed by Karen and David O'Conner, and while they signed I asked if it was hard for them to work so closely together as a married couple. Karen insisted they really didn't work that closely, since David was now doing so much with USEF and administration now. David just emphatically said "No!". :-) They had to be efficient, because there were hundreds of people in line, but they were so incredibly kind and gracious.

Jim Wofford signed his recently re-published Training the Three-Day Event Horse and Rider, and I mentioned to him that I thoroughly enjoyed his "blog" coverage of the olympics (and I told him about my own feeble attempt). He said that he was collecting all his weblogs from various equestrian events, and he was going to publish them. Something to look forward to. Someone in front of me brought a book for her daughter, who was taking LSATs, I think. Jimmy smiled at him and said, "We have a name for people like you: Paypal!" He was witty, fun, and asked ever single person for his/her name and the horse's name, too--then he personalized his book with the information. Having skimmed the book, I'm thrilled; so much to learn, and from such an amazing, kind, and intelligent author!

Bruce Davidson, who was somewhat instrumental in my desire to jump over large, solid obstacles, as he was featured in a lovely book in the late 70's, was on hand as well. I just remember how in this book he made jumping cross country look like SO much fun! I didn't have anything for him to sign other than a fleece ear warmer, but he obliged. The woman in front of me asked him what he thought about the shortened version of the three day, and his answer seemed to be, at first, a bit surprising: he said he wanted the powers that be to research it, and to come to an informed, pragmatic conclusion--and that whatever was best for the sport was good for him. He wasn't afraid of change. Bravo to Bruce!

I also had my ear-warmer signed by Darren Chiacchia, who was so busy with his younger adoring fans he had no time for questions. Ah, the young turks. I can only hope that one day he'll be as gracious and kind as Bruce Davidson, Jimmy Wofford, and the O'Conners, who obviously love their sport, their horses, and, by association, the fans who allow the sport to continue.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

It Has Begun

Once again, today started out beautifully: blue sky, cool, light breeze. By 10:00, however, the clouds began to roll in.

I rolled in a little later, and immediately was torn: Do I watch the dressage rides, or wander through the incredible International Trade Fair? I compromised; I wandered, then watched, then wandered, then watched. While it was a good compromise, I've learned something important: when you've been through the valley of temptation and have succumbed (uh, honey, about that credit card bill....), you have to drag the spoils of battle with you the remainder of the day. I got some great deals, but next time, I'll try to get those great deals later in the day.

Now, the important information: the dressage riders!

After watching the tests today, I see why all the riders I watched yesterday were working on the same things: flying lead changes, counter canter, and trot half-pass. With a few exceptions (more on this later), these were the bugaboos that separated the wheat from the chaff. It was surprising how many of these horses either had trouble with the counter-canter, or trouble changing leads after doing a counter-canter. Several horses changed late in the back, and more than several kicked or bucked when asked to change. Is this a TB trait, I wonder? Or just a result of high stakes and rattled nerves?

I'm certainly no expert, but I noticed that the rides who scored well tended to have one thing in common, one thing that lent itself to a consistent, rhythmic ride: excellent transitions. I now bow humbly to Whit and Carol, both of whom have tried to reinforce the importance of good, smooth transitions. I was able to see today, as I watched rider after rider, what a difference these make in a test.

I missed Phillip Dutton's ride, and he remained in first until the end of the day. I did, however, get to see a few really fine rides: Tiffani Loudon-Meetze, riding Above 'N' Beyond (I want to know what official color this horse is--sort of a chestnut, but a tail that has every color in it--just like Goober's) has a smooth, really nice ride (nice transitions, really super extended trot, and very obedient). Le Samurai, a holsteiner/TB cross, ridden by Robyn Fisher, gave another nice, smooth ride. A bit of problem at the end, I think, but not enough to bring her down too much. I was especially glad to see Corinne Ashton, who I met yesterday (she's a first time Rolex rider, and a Pony Club Leader in Massachusetts, I believe, with many of her clubbers here to cheer her on) have a solid ride--again, only with some lead problems, and maybe a little stiffness.

The rain begin in earnest just after 2:00, and Jan Thompson, on Task Force (who I think might have been the one I saw working with David O'Conner yesterday) rode a really nice test even though it was raining. Her ride reminded me of Tiffani's: very forward, smooth, rhythmic, and connected. Again, good solid transitions.

Horse and Rider just had an article on "Don't Stop Showing"--that is, if something goes wrong, don't make a big deal about it; stay focused, stay professional, fix it, and go on. I think it was Kristin Schmolze who embodied that: her hat blew off half way through the test as the rain/wind got worse, and she plowed on, never letting it bother her.

I'm kicking myself for having missed Kim Severson on her new horse (those darn good deals at the trade fair); I'm going to make sure to catch her tomorrow on "Dan".

I'd love to be able to see the comments--but here's what I think I've learned after watching these wonderful horses and riders today:

+A tense, stiff rider/tense horse cannot make smooth transitions.
+Horses must be prepared for transitions, including lead changes.
+Half-passes look a lot more impressive going away.
+Shoulder-ins range from almost side-passes to just a shoulder-in. I think the latter were scored higher, but that's just a guess.
+Horses that were bracing against the bit simply don't look relaxed, and many of these horses fell into that camp.

A lot of these "hot" horses had trouble stretching, reaching for the bit--that was another "big" thing that set the winners apart. I know in my own riding, I need to work on being more "forward", and it felt like some of these folks were holding back, perhaps fearful the horses WOULD take off. Poor Peter Gray had that trouble--once his horse had done the extended canter, he wanted non of this collection business.

Perhaps I can consider Rolex to be a very long, very expensive riding lesson.....

More tomorrow, where the rain will remain steady in the morning, and t-showers begin in the afternoon. Gulp. I'm sure the tests will be affected. Bless those beasties (and their riders) tonight.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Continuing the Cross Country Trek

Despite my tendency to make wrong turns, I made it to the Kentucky Horse Park with nary a problem--and I got to travel through some of the most beautiful horse country to get there. When I left the house, the bright blue sky was dotted with clouds, and by the time I arrived at the park, the clouds had definitely rolled in. But aside from a few spitting showers in the afternoon, the weather cooperated. So far, so good!

I watched about seven individuals warm up in dressage, which was glorious. Dressage is such a demanding, total concentration negotiation between horse and rider, and these tightly coiled horses (who clearly wanted to be out running/jumping) were being incredibly well-behaved and focused. I sat on a hillside next to two warm-up dressage areas, enchanted as I was able to see three and four rides at a time. It was so hard to look everywhere at once! I wish I knew more about the people involved, but I remember a well-schooled, very obedient bay schooling a lot of trotting shoulder-ins, side passes, and such; a chestnut with perhaps the most beautiful trot I've ever seen on a TB (and I believe Karen O'Conner was working w/ the rider), working on a lot of counter-canter and lead changes; a dark black-bay working on flying changes and extensions with David O'Conner; and another blood bay who never made it into the arena, but schooled outside. He was, perhaps, the best overall package I've seen today in terms of rhythm, elasticity, and purity of gaits. I can't wait to see them actually perform their tests tomorrow!

A note on the O'Conners: I was so very, very impressed at how helpful they were, schooling with other people when they have to be stressed about their own horses/rides....yet they were helpful, cheerful, and downright nice. When David was finished with his rider, about ten pony club kids came RUNNING up as he exited the arena, all asking for his autograph. Incredibly gracious and kind, he gave it to each one. It makes me proud to be a horse person, ever-so-distantly affiliated with this field, and with people like the O'Conners.

I glanced at the trade show, and made the horrific realization that I'm going to have to rein myself in during the next few days...there are so many wonderful, incredible things for sale there. Sigh.

The crowning achievement today was walking the X Country course--all 6400 meters of it. It only takes the horses 22 minutes, but it took me nearly two hours, and I was exhausted afterwards (and I didn't take a single jump!). Some of the combinations looked virtually impossible (esp. on foot), and extremely technical. Usually these were the ones that had slower, slightly easier "options"--but even the options were scary. I wonder how the riders about to go on these courses sleep the night before? There has to be such a balance of trust, guts, caution, and aggression.....I would be petrified. Horse and rider MUST trust one another implicitly. Yet it's thrilling, too. I can't wait to see how they negotiate some of these jumps.

As I walked the course, several youngsters in a pasture nearby suddenly took off and ran the length of their pasture next to us, and I was reminded again of the magnificence of the thoroughbred as they moved effortlessly, floating above the ground, exuberant in their power and ability. While some of the dressage riders captured a balanced, energetic athleticism with their rides today, there's something amazing, almost poetic, about thoroughbreds running free.

I ended the day watching about 12 riders working their horses around the dressage ring, and several of them trying to acclimate their mounts to the "ghosts" in the neon sign that made noise as it changed. It's all going to start for them tomorrow. I can't wait.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes--Part 1

It's a glorious morning in Paris, KY! I have heard the old saying "If you don't like the weather around here, wait 20 minutes..." and I think it applies to KY. Of course, is predicting light showers later today (the X country course is open at 1), and a steady rain all day tomorrow and Friday. Dressage riders/horses *love* riding in the rain.....and if you believe this, I've got a really nice bridge in Brooklyn that I'd like to talk to you about.

Fortified with Starbucks, I'm ready to roll (note: my brother and his family do not--I repeat, do NOT--drink coffee, so I had to bring my own, along with a French press. I will still claim them because they are generously housing me...but no coffee?!?! That's just *wrong*). But I'm packing the rain gear, just in case....

By the way, Kentucky is beautiful: rolling hills, all shades of green, lovely trees, nicely kept fences surrounding the farms, and so forth. Fecundity, thy name is Kentucky. Sigh. It reminds me of my Midwest roots, and I find myself longing for this kind of scenery on a daily basis (West Texas is flat. Trees aren't native. The antithesis of here). I'm inspired--and I haven't even gotten to the horse park yet!

More upon my return.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Dampened Spirits

I left a sunny west Texas this morning (leaving so early that we had to drop the kids off in the cafeteria where they sat looking very forlorn), and I enjoyed a relatively smooth, ontime, uneventful flight to Dallas Ft. Worth, where I caught the flight to Cincinnati. All was fine until we got about 30 minutes out--and suddenly, the lovely patchwork fields below were gone--obscured by thick, white, cottony clouds. At least they were white on top, where we were....but when we descended into the Cincinnati airport, they became grey and foreboding. "Chance of light showers and 55 degrees" the pilot said. Uh, oh. I had hoped against hope we wouldn't have a soggy Rolex.

So much for hope. I walked through a light drizzle to my rental car, and drove down 75 south, turning the windshield wipers up every mile or so until they were at top speed around the water tower that said "Florence Y'all" (I think it used to say "Florence Mall" but water towers weren't supposed to advertise, so they repainted the "M"--talk about Southern Ingenuity!). It was more than "light showers"; it was a downpour.

I stopped at a rest stop just north of the Georgetown exist, and spoke to two absolutely lovely ladies as I procured various maps (my last name often has "Wrong Way" in front of it). They lamented that, for the last three years, Rolex has been soggy--"you think they'd learn!"

Since I was due to arrive in Paris, KY, where I'd be staying (with my brother and his family) a little earlier than they'd be home, I stopped off at the local Wal-Mart to purchase some rain gear--waterproof pants and a jacket. I hope the volunteer "uniform"--khaki pants and a white shirt--can be covered if the weather gets any worse.

I had a lovely dinner with my sister-in-law and my niece, and now I'm unpacking for the long haul. Come rain, or snow, or dark of night-like-clouds, this volunteer's spirits won't be dampened, even if her body is!

Monday, April 25, 2005

A Dream Deferred: My First Horse Trial

Like many of you, I began my life pretty much crazy about horses, and when my family moved to Ohio, my hopes of having a horse of my own—an equine partner to travel through childhood with—were realized in the form of a little quarter horse trained to be a cutting horse. Although I grew up riding my horse bareback in the fields, I always wanted to learn to ride English, and more than anything else, to jump. And not just over silly white poles, either; I wanted to ride cross country, able to tackle any obstacles that might come my way.

Due to seclusion, financial woes, etc. (do you know any small farmers who actually make a living at it?), I never got that opportunity, other than jumping fallen trees, gravestones, etc. as they came up on our daily treks—again, always bareback, since my western saddle was too heavy for me to lift. At grad school, a friend who had a friend who rode in the ICTA (Indiana Combined Training Association) said they needed volunteers to help out at the Spring and Fall Horse Trials, so my roommate and I eagerly signed up. From 6 am until 4 pm we were jump judges—that is, we sat next to our x-country jump, reporting after each jump as to who had gone “clean” and if there were any difficulties/penalties (refusals, falls, etc.). It was exhilarating to watch them all—rank beginners trotting tentatively, and the bolder preliminary riders sailing over fences that made me quake on the ground. We soon scoped out the “best” jumps (those that horses were least familiar with, such as the water jumps) and requested those. For seven years, I lived vicariously through those riders!.

Then life got in the way again: My first “real” job at University of Michigan, marriage, and kids filled the void…or so I thought. Still, every year I would watch Rolex, Badmitton, and anything else equine I could catch on TV. But my dream deferred was suddenly back on track when my husband and I were offered teaching positions at Texas Tech.

Knowing that county fairs often meant horses, I dragged my kids to the coliseum at the fair, and, to my great delight, there was a hunter/jumper show going on. I began chatting with several folks there, and I found that there was a thriving horse community in Lubbock. I visited almost every barn in the area, and settled in at Lonesome Pine. There I purchased Smoothie, a TB mare off the track who taught me to jump (and a whole lot more). Carol Ford, my trainer, insisted that we start doing some dressage, too, and I started to realize how important dressage was to my own riding. The dressage work made me more conscious of my body and made Smoothie more responsive. As we got better, our improvement permeated other aspects of my riding as Smoothie learned to use her “engine” when she jumped. I was on my way to fulfilling my dream, but not before a major setback or two.

As many of you know, Smoothie died in the summer of 2001, leaving me with a young, untrained, wild-eyed three-year-old gelding I had originally purchased for re-sale. Through Carol’s hard work and persistence (uh, and a little of my own), this horse, Paycheck, soon became a trusted partner. We started him in dressage immediately, then added hunter/jumper. Still, aside from a trip to my husband’s ranch, I hadn’t ridden cross country, and Lubbock was so….well, flat…that I didn’t see how I could.

Then I met Su Miller and Donna Hamilton, two women who weren’t afraid to travel the 6+ hours necessary to get to a cross country field. Su invited me to a schooling weekend at Greenwood Farm, and there, for the first time in my life, I actually schooled over the type of jumps I used to sit beside in Indiana. It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. About six months later, Donna and I went to another schooling weekend, and again, the experience left me giddy.

This spring, Donna told me she was going to a training horse trial at Curragh Equestrian Center, between Weatherford and Ft. Worth—and with that invitation, my childhood dream was within grasp.

We spent Saturday schooling over fences. Paycheck was wary about ditches and water—two things we don’t have in abundance in Lubbock—so we concentrated on those, although we did get over some stadium jumps at least one time. The rest of the evening was spent on memorizing my dressage test.

The Trials began with the dressage test. I was riding Beginner Novice (you’ve got to start somewhere, and the 2’3”-2’6” fences were close to what I’d been jumping at home), and the dressage test was similar to the Training 1 test. I knew we’d give a strong performance, since we had done well earlier at a LEDA schooling show. Wrong! Paycheck spent the entire test looking for his schooling buddy from the day before, and we barely made it through the test. I was deflated; this was the event I’d counted on to bolster my confidence!

We had time only for a quick tack change and a few practice jumps before it was time for our Stadium Jumping. I was worried--we’d only done hunter courses before, and this one was tighter, with more sharp turns. But hallelujah! our dressage finally kicked in. With some coaching from Donna (who makes a fantastic “show mom”), I sat back between fences, rebalancing, and Paycheck responded with solid turns and flying lead changes. We had the best course of our lives! Thrilled, I figured that I couldn’t top it in cross country, which was coming up in only 20 minutes. After all, I was out of shape, and while we’d schooled over fences, we’d never taken 18 fences in succession—nor had we galloped for almost 5 minutes (the optimal time was 4:51). I figured that we’d canter the first few fences, then when we got tired, we’d trot; my goal was to merely finish the course.

We settled in the timer’s box…5-4-3-2-1 GO! …we were of! We cantered the first fence without a problem, and I looked to the next. As we cleared the second fence, I couldn’t help myself--I started giggling. Then Paycheck realized that we weren’t going to stop and school each fence over and over again, his pace became bolder and he, too, started giggling—I swear it! He didn’t blink over the ditches; this was fun! Ah, but there loomed the dreaded water jump. I’d better slow Paycheck down, since he didn’t like it yesterday. I transitioned down to trot--for about five steps. Then Paycheck said “we’ll have none of this!” and galloped through the water.

The final ditch came much too soon, and even though I was exhausted, I have never felt such complete and total elation. We’d done it! When I learned that we got time penalties for coming in too quickly in cross country (we were 40 seconds early) I laughed out loud—not bad for someone who was worried about simply completing the course.

I’ve since learned that there are others in Lubbock who are interested in combined training, and I would like to encourage you all to take that long, six hour drive, and to put your dressage and hunter training to the test. I learned that dressage really is the cornerstone for all riding; that you can fulfill your dreams, even if you’re over 40, with kids, job, etc.; and that as much fun as cross country looked sitting next to a jump, it’s even better on horseback. It’s more fun than grown ups should be allowed to have. I've repeated this experience twice more, and each time it gets more fun, for me AND my horse. Donna and I are going to try our first non-schooling horse trails in June--Rolex will be my inspiration. Does it get any better?

Pre-Rolex: A Little About Me

Greetings, all of you bloggees! I'm going to be writing about my experiences at Rolex--my first one ever. I'll give you some background now, so that you'll know who's writing to you.

I was born a midwest farmer's daughter, and I was horse-crazy almost from day 1. I finally realized my horsie dream when we bought a smallish quarter horse who was trained to be a cutting horse. I learned to ride first by holding on tightly as my father led me around the barnyard, and later by jumping on bareback in the pasture (and, uh, cutting babies from the herd of brood cattle). I didn't really have formal training, except for reading everything I could get my hands on, and attending a couple 4-H meetings. There was one thing, however, that I wanted to do from the beginning: Jump.

Everyone in the vicinity rode western (or, like me, bareback), so there really wasn't anyone to help me learn. Still, I jumped every chance I got--over logs, over streams ("cricks" if you're from Ohio), and even over gravestones.

While in grad school, I spent almost 7 years as a jump judge for the spring and fall Indiana Horse Trials. I really, really wanted to do that, but I simply didn't have the horse, the money, the training, or the facilities.

Skip ahead many years--past (too) many degrees, marraiges, and kids (ok, not too many kids), and by the time I was 40, I finally got my wish: I bought a wonderful TB mare who taught me to jump. I'm learning to do dressage, too, but since I live in West Texas, the closest eventing/combined training opportunities are at least 7 hours away. Still, with my partner in crime Donna, I've been trying to get to as many as humanly possibly, given that I'm on sabbatical this spring.

And since I knew I would be on sabbatical, last year I contacted the Rolex folks and asked if I couldn't volunteer for the 2005 Rolex. After several emails and snail mails, I was in! I'll be a jump judge this weekend. I can hardly wait!

So now you know a bit about me. I'll post about my first horse trials in a bit--but stay tuned! I leave tomorrow morning at 8:54. Rolex, here I come!