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.

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