Saturday, October 19, 2013

My Horse Life in 5 Photos

My horse life began at the age of six, when I asked for riding lessons entirely unprovoked by recent pony rides/marry-go-rounds/toy horses. I started out taking western lessons and attended my first horse show only a couple weeks after; one lead-line class and one halter class. Shortly thereafter, I moved to a Hunter/Jumper barn, taking lessons on a very ill-mannered Shetland pony named Shamrock. Jumping was very scary for me at the time, so I eventually moved to a Dressage barn instead, where there was more interaction between child and horse, something I desperately craved. In the summers, my family would travel to our vacation cottage, where my mom found a fabulous day camp I could attend called Great Northern Riding Club. Not only did we ride every day, five days a week, we also were responsible for most of the work around the barn. I loved every second of caring for all the horses, scooping poop, throwing hay, and cleaning tack! My first photo here is one of the camp horses, Show-Me, a quarter pony that I rode in my first couple jump courses (I was still pretty nervous about jumping).

Photo 1 - Show-Me!

 After riding lesson horses for 9 years, I finally convinced my parents that I needed a horse of my own when I was 15. I had an opportunity to work 6 days a week at a boarding barn, and fully cover all main expenses myself. Lucky for me, the barn I was taking lessons at just had a horse shipped in from Colorado. I was in the market for something big, black, and preferably a draft cross. The horse from Colorado was named Tristan, a 15.3 hh buckskin Connemara/Trakehner cross (a what?). Something about his personality clicked with me, and the second time I ever rode him, we did a little jumping. I circled him around to a barely 2 foot vertical and he, being very very green, took off at least 10 feet in front of the jump and landed about 10 feet on the other side. Somehow I instantaneously transformed from a kid afraid of jumping crossrails, to a jumping maverick while a huge grin spread across my face. I remember turning to my mom and saying, "We have to buy this one!"

Photo 2 - Tristan's first clinic!
Astride my little buckskin, anything was possible. Even though our first time out schooling cross country made me very nervous (it was only a second time cross country for either of us), Tristan consistently proved to me that he had my best interests at heart. He loved jumping, was terribly brave, and was willing to try anything I wanted to do. My confidence quickly grew and we started tackling more difficult obstacles every day! Finally, we had enough practice to try our first show. I had never Evented before, but Tristan made me feel like I could do anything, so we gave it a shot. At our first mini-event at Novice level, we were both very nervous and ended up putting in one of the fastest dressage tests of the day. We completed our very first cross country course together, and as I crossed the finish line, hyperventilating and crying, the only words I could get out were, "THAT *wheeze* WAS *wheeze* AWESOME!"

Photo 3 - How not to do Dressage
 Showing definitely wasn't easy, especially dressage. Tristan and I struggled to communicate a lot, and it took a really long time to build that bond and trust. Giraffe-like transitions were the norm for quite some time until we started working the kinks out. Soon enough, Novice level felt way to simple for Tristan; he was ready for the big jumps. Our move up to Training was unfortunately rocky, and we had some very bad shows followed by some pretty amazing shows. One thing was for sure, at the end of the day Tristan wanted to jump and I wanted to fly with him!

We worked hard, day after day, year after year, practicing in the freezing cold and blistering heat alike. I took lessons from many different trainers, read countless books, and watched many old dressage VHS tapes (old-school!) in order to improve. Tristan ended up traveling with me to Ohio, where I attended Lake Erie College and obtained a Bachelors of Science in Equine Entrepreneurship. After graduation, I traveled to North Carolina to work for Eric Dierks, previous Rolex competitor and incredible coach, at the beautiful farm he keeps with his lovely wife, Trayce. I ended up staying there with Tristan for seven months, training literally every day. Tristan and I were in the best shape of our lives. Alas, all good things must come to an end and it was time to enter the real working world, thus we moved again, this time to South Carolina. I started working full-time, but prepared for my upcoming show season with sheer determination.

Photo 4 - Clinic with Ralph Hill
Even while working, I took every opportunity I possibly could to take lessons, ride in clinics, and compete. This meant a lot of late nights after work, feeding at the barn and riding late in the dark to keep in shape. Thankfully, hard work pays off. This past show season, Tristan and I competed in five Training level events, earned four ribbons: our first-ever first place, a second place, a seventh, and an eighth. We completed our four qualifying rounds to move up to Preliminary, and this October we entered our first Prelim event. Unfortunately, we parted company in stadium due to a miscommunication between horse and rider. However, Tristan and I are both ready, yet again, to tackle bigger and better obstacles.

Photo 5 - The final jump of our First place stadium round (if you look closely, I'm already starting to cry!)
My life with horses has taught me that anything you love is worth working your butt off for. Tristan has given me more confidence in myself than I know what to do with. It's hard keeping up with being an Amateur competitor, with real life and work constantly getting in the way, but it's worth every moment of blood sweat and tears. Tristan, this is for you!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Letter to Nathan


You know I'm not generally the super romantic type, but I feel in this case, there should be an exception. This time, last year, I remember the slightly awkward phone call with the question raised, "Well, what are we?" The best answer we could come up with was dating, even though I worked 25 hours a day 8 days a week and you were across the country, sometimes with little to no cell service. The first couple months were hard with the long distance, but I could tell right away that we had something special.

We moved in together and I quickly decided that we desperately needed further companionship (not saying that you weren't adequate), and shortly after, Lego joined our little family. We shared many smiles and laughs before, but adding her crazy little furriness to our lives just enhanced it further.

We've settled into our own quiet little routine, but while the butterflies may be nearly gone, I'm still grateful for everyday I get to spend with you.

When I said, "Let's go to a horseshow!" something you knew little to nothing about, you jumped so wholeheartedly into my equine world that, in addition to my mom of course, you have become an integral part of Tristan's and my show experience. When things go great you are there to revel in victory, and when things go poorly you are quick to offer condolences or a shoulder to cry on.

You are terribly supportive of my horse addiction, no matter how late I leave the barn every night, never asking me to change my routine so we can eat dinner at a more appropriate time.

Every single day we are together, you find a new way to say three things:

1. You're beautiful
2. I'm so lucky to be with you
3. I love you

You are a perfect gentleman, rarely letting me pay for food or open my own doors (even though I try to protest at times) and make me generally feel loved and appreciated every single day. I hope I make you feel even a fraction as great as you make me feel.

I don't know how I ever lived without you before, and I sure as hell don't want to try it again.

To many more loving years.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Inspiration in Defeat - A Recap of the 2013 Windridge Farm Horse Trials

Tristan and I had our first Preliminary level event this weekend. I'd like to report that "we came, we saw, we conquered," but that was hardly the case. I came into this show with incredibly low expectations. Not that I didn't think we were capable of doing well, just that I understand that at times like these it is very likely that the universe will conspire against you.

Day One

Firstly, I recommend not starting the show day off with nausea and puking. 

Dressage - All-in-all, we put in a tense but respectable dressage test. Our score wasn't turning any heads (a hefty 47.0) but the training and strength are there. Unfortunately, I underestimated how difficult a counter canter can be to hold when you have a tense horse in the show ring.

On the plus side, Tristan was moving like a true superstar in the warm-up. I finally have found a warm-up routine that produces a very powerful, yet still rideable mount. The feeling of an extended trot, truly through the back, when his toes flick with every stride, makes me grin from ear to ear like a fool. However, all of that homework changes when heading down the centerline in a spooky ring. We have yet to find balance between the truly straight, powerful dressage horse and the tense nervous show horse. The work continues.

Stadium - We warmed up with a forward, powerful medium canter in mind to accommodate for the wide oxers and big uphill strides. I knew we were prepared for the height and width, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't terribly nervous.

We went in the ring, took a nice forward stride off to the first fence and jumped our first oxer. I wasn't terribly happy with our power away from the first jump so with a quick pop with my crop, I kicked him on to jump number two. Two jumped well even though my turn bowed way too far out, but then we ran under three.
Jump 3
Four went alright, but we got sticky again at five.

Jump 5
The combination at six jumped well, but Tristan was starting to lose confidence.

Jump 6-A

Jump 6-B
Seven gave us a horrible distance, with Tristan adding a stride I never saw coming.

Jump 7 - You can see we are in trouble here and the rail is already going down. Tristan put in a huge effort to try to get us out safely, but it was too late.
I knew to make the striding from seven to eight, I was going to have to land and GO, so I landed and asked Tristan to give me all he had. He tried, he really did, but at that last moment of "will it happen" before the triple bar at eight, Tristan told me it wasn't going to work. He stopped. I had a very quick, easy dismount over his shoulder, landing on my feet. We left the ring with me crying and Tristan wondering why we weren't finishing the course.

Nothing bruised but our pride.

Disappointment hit me in the face like a sack of bricks. I blame most of it on myself, but the rest I can chalk up to our collective inexperience at that level. We can jump the jumps, no problem, but when it comes down to the moment and you have to make a decision in a split second, those extra couple of inches count.

Disappointed, but not discouraged.

Do I feel now that we weren't yet ready to compete at that level? Absolutely not. This just wasn't our weekend.

I had a lot of people ask me if I'm going to add another show in this year to get a complete event before the season is over. Here's my thought process, Tristan has given me a wonderful five shows at training level, with four beautiful qualifiers, four ribbons, only one jump penalty in cross country and one rail in stadium. He's incredibly fit right now, ready to gallop and jump until I go blue in the face. Tristan's dressage has improved 100 fold, just in the last couple months. He has given me his everything, and now it's time for him to have a vacation. There will always be more shows next year.

Day Two

Cross Country - I decided to not even ask about running the course for experience. After the previous day, it is time to take a few steps back, go take some more lessons, go school, and then come back with a more confident mindset, ready to dominate. Even though it sucked for a bit, I decided to watch the rest of the competition tackle the course. I studied the prelim horses and riders going through tricky combinations and taking them beautifully in stride. I cheered my friends on with their horses, living vicariously through their individual victories. In the end, through support of my family and friends, we made a potentially depressing weekend, fun and exciting.

My trainer, Eric Dierks, and SC Casanova
Eric Dierks and SC Casanova
Eric Dierks and SC Casanova
Eric Dierks and SC Casanova
Eric Dierks and Manderley
Eric Dierks and Manderley
Eric Dierks and Manderley
Cheryl Ray and Intitricku
Cheryl Ray and Intitricku
Cheryl Ray and Intitricku
At the end of the day, it could have always been worse. Yes, it absolutely sucks to fall off in front of a crowd of people, knowing both you and your horse are capable of completing the event. We have to keep looking to the positives; Tristan was entirely unscathed, and I walked away without even a bruise to show for my efforts. This was simply not our weekend, and that's ok. Time to take a break.

You win some, you lose some.

*A special thanks to my boyfriend, Nathan Stancliff, for providing me with these incredible photos.*