Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Ride Forward Though The Downward Transitions

"Find the feeling you had at full gallop every now and then." 

-Christian Kennedy-

I got back a couple days ago from completing my second Novice long format event with Tristan. The classic three day has been a goal of mine since I heard about them in college, and most of 2012 was spent trying to get qualifying scores to compete at a Training level long format at Hagyard in Kentucky. Unfortunately my single mindedness of that one goal during my stint as a working student at Renovatio with Eric Dierks ended up getting in my way, and I ended up with some of the worst showing experiences of my riding career regardless of getting the best instruction I'd ever been exposed to.

We had cross country refusals, time faults and rails in stadium, giraffe-like dressage test. You name it, I managed to mess it up. I remember running late for cross country warm up at one show, struggling to get my studs in on time, and slipping and punching Tristan's shoes on accident repeatedly. With blood dripping off my knuckles and trying to keep it from staining my white breeches, I leapt into the saddle and tore off for the cross country warm up. If I remember correctly, we finished that course with 60 penalties on course.

At one point, Eric and I sat down and talked about my goals as a rider and my direction for life. I was fresh out of college, not entirely sure where my career path was taking me besides the present. After telling him my goal was to qualify for a Training 3 day, he told me to think bigger. While we did eventually compete at Preliminary (something I never thought possible), looking back I don't really think he was asking me what level I wanted to compete. Eric has always been a "big picture" kind of instructor, like a riding coach and life guru rolled into one. Now 6 years later, I think I'm starting to understand.

Why do we compete? Why do we spend endless hours to sign up for expensive shows, take time away from work and family, all to win a 10 cent ribbon? Why do we risk embarrassment, pain, failure, and sometimes even our lives to achieve some arbitrary goals? If I'm not a professional rider and have no intention of going to the Olympics or competing at a 4 star level, what honestly is the point? I could just as easily stay home where it's safe, watch my horses graze out in the pasture and not bring that level of stress into my life.

The answer to those questions lies in two things; partnership and harmony. I've said time and time again that Tristan is my horse of a lifetime. He's taught me so much and brought me so far, helped me face my fears and risen up to every task I've given him. After building a partnership for 13 years together, I really have to think long and hard about how to use him and support him in an ethical manor. He is not some machine that I can replace parts on or throw out if no longer useful. He's a living breathing partner that has learned to trust me as much as I trust him. Especially as Tristan gets older, I need to think long and hard before asking him to do anything that could hurt him.

This past show at Southern Eights really felt like our harmony has cemented. Not saying we won't have off days, or that every second of every ride went smoothly, but I was finally in a frame of mind where I could ride accurately, supportively, and react to the horse underneath me. Taking the nerves and anxiety, pushing it aside and completing the task at hand. It's taken a long time to come to this point and it's a relief to have achieved that regardless of the score or points.

That's where showing helps me. It's an opportunity to set goals and practice with purpose, but more largely it's about challenging and cementing the partnership we've already built in the long hours at home.

These past months have really brought to light how temporary everything can be. Great moments of joy followed by deep moments of sadness. Being able to look down into the void and still scramble back out before it consumes everything. I'm sad from loss, but I'm also proud of the partnerships and friendships I've build both in and out of the saddle. I'm scared of losing another loved one, but I'm also excited about the future I still have to build.

Christian asked us to find the feeling at full gallop every now and then. I can tell you right now, I was there galloping around steeplechase on Saturday. Grinning ear to ear, wind in my face, and feeling that steady 4 beat rhythm underneath me as we flew down to the next jump. Fear mixed with joy. Pain with freedom. All in balance and harmony.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Memories of Rolex

My first sighting of Christian was at Eric's course walk at Rolex 2012. I didn't know him then. My only focus was to listen as intently as possible to the commentary because I was trying to soak in everything I could learn from Eric through his clinics, videos, and teachings before moving down to North Carolina later that spring.

I remember being annoyed that this tall, gangly, blonde kid kept getting in front of me, easily keeping up with the course walk with his long legs and squeezing into all the good spots to hear Eric talk about each fence. Little did I know we would be living together shortly after.

Some people are just easy to be friends with. Christian's relaxed, humorous nature made it easy to like him. His passion as a horseman and talent as a rider made it easy to admire him. His caring, giving, hardworking attitude made it easy to rely on him.

All those things made it so much harder to lose him.

There was a memorial service tonight at Renovatio Farm where we lived together as working students for Eric and Trayce. It looks like there was a lovely candlelit service to remember and honor Christian's memory. I wish I could have been there and not working, but life keeps moving forward no matter how we feel.

I'm back here at Kentucky talking with lots of horse enthusiasts every day for my work. I wonder how many of them are as amazing and incredible of people as Christian was. I wonder how many of them have a whole army of family and friends rooting them on to succeed with their dreams.

I hope some of the young riders I meet will become the new generation of passionate, hardworking students. I hope they put their heart and soul into everything they do the way Christian did. I hope some of them have that infectious positivity where they light up a room just by being there.

It still hurts that you're gone.

I don't know if it ever won't.

I'll try to be grateful for the time we had, instead of sad about the time we lost. I'll keep trying to find that feeling at full gallop every now and then.

Live like Christian. Love like Christian. Ride for Christian.