The ups and downs of the last two years made writing about dressage, the horses and our progress or lack thereof, seem unimportant somehow or at least less important, as they will always be a cornerstone in my life. Where has the time gone? We’ve made one of those life changing decisions: to sell our home of nineteen years and relocate to Missouri, where I was born. It was a gut-wrenching decision yet the numbers don’t lie. . .we had to make a change or face the inevitable: running out of money. It’s expensive to live in California. Lovely, peaceful, comfortable, but expensive.
Our place is sold, we’re in the throes of preparing to move, sorting through the flotsam and jetsam of our lives. The new property awaits. . .new in many ways as it was built in 1999. No more old house for us. It isn’t what I thought we’d buy. The acreage is smaller, the house is newer and there’s no barn or fencing. It lacks curb appeal and yet is somehow homey and right for us, for now. We’ll build a new barn. We’ll put in fencing. The horses will manage at a nice boarding barn until we’re ready for them to come home. The trek across country with three cats and two large dogs will go fine. After that, who knows?
The thing which compelled me to write once more is a juxtaposition I cannot resolve, totally unrelated to us or our life change. A friend’s daughter, a beautiful, vibrant, joyful young woman working on her PhD, newly engaged with a wonderful life in front of her was just diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer. The horrific journey she endured beating cancer the first time around (2010 through 2012) wasn’t enough, God or Fate or Life decided Kiara needed yet another challenge.
My uncle, my mother’s sister’s husband of nearly seventy-five years, died on Monday. He was ninety-four. He was a marvelous man, gentle, loving, articulate, funny and remarkable in more ways than I can relay. His body simply wore out on him. His mind, active and strong ’til the last, never wavered. His body couldn’t keep pace. We are sad to lose him in our lives and especially concerned about his wife and how she will cope, but there is no anger or surprise. It was his time.
It is not Kiara’s time. Not even close.
How does this happen? How is one given ninety-four full years of vibrant life and another given stage four metastatic breast cancer?
Kiara’s gallantry is amazing. Her insightful, honest blog post this morning echoes through my mind as I write.
Suddenly my life seems simple and blessed. Problems and concerns no longer look important or even like problems. Just things to tackle and resolve. The juxtaposition between the battle Kiara faces and the one John Allen relinquished flood through me, washing away all the nits and picks and fears and dolor. The sun shines, birds sing, rose and wisteria bloom and life’s journey continues.
Sometimes extraordinary people come into our lives in the most ordinary of ways. So it was for me. Jean Jett introduced me to Edie because I wanted to buy an Arab. And so it began. For nearly twenty years I was privileged to have her as a trainer, mentor, cheerleader, coach and friend. On 26 August 2009 Edie Lehman lost her battle with recurring breast cancer.
A Letter to Edie
Edie, I miss you. It’s two years since you died. It seems as if we were together only yesterday. At your memorial, I couldn’t stand up with Lori and say a word. There just didn’t seem to be any words. Maybe I can find them now.
I remember, Edie. Every day. There are four living memorials to you in our pasture right this minute. One you loved, started then let me have and cheered on to many blue ribbons.
PC Sermano+, Sherman. He’s twenty-seven this year and going strong, enjoying every day of his well-earned retirement. Two, Margarita Mia and Fyrrepower, you and Shirley bred and gave terrific foundations; the fourth, the big white lug of a Lipizzan learned his ground manners at the Edie Lehman Charm School and Boot Camp.
Remember Salsa? You said buying him did more credit to my heart than my head but you took him on and brought him along beautifully. He’s a happy trail horse with another owner now. I wonder if she understands what a terrific start you gave him?
We showed together at two U.S. National Championships. You welcomed Stu and Pip into our show world and became their friend. You watched Sherman win his Top Ten at 2nd level; I couldn’t bear to be in the audience and waited outside. You rode Lenita to a Top Ten in 2004 in a tough, tough class. Baby gets his champion genes from her. You were with us in spirit at the third Nationals.
I wear your ball caps. Your western spurs are in Margarita’s grooming box and go with us wherever we go. Jen has used them on Mo a couple of times. He snaps right to when she does. It makes us laugh.
The memories are vast and varied. Remember relaxing in the early evening in front of our stalls at a show? You were almost always doing something. . .setting up the next day’s schedule, cleaning tack, learning a test, getting a bite to eat. Your example often shamed me into action. Just watching you in motion, doing and being active — it was contagious. I treasure those quiet times, swapping stories, talking over the day’s classes, watching people working horses into the evening; just enjoying some peace and quiet.
I remember early mornings, getting up to help you feed and then searching out coffee and maybe a donut or two.
I remember watching you show trail. You were a master at it. The partnership and finesse amaze me to this day.
You showed your own and your client’s horses with the same gusto and determination. On a trail course you were the picture of concentration.
I remember leaning on a rail, watching classes, learning to see what I was looking at by listening to you. Your discerning judge’s eye took in everything. You shared what you saw.
You had a way of distilling things into their simplest forms. You shared your love of working western and gave me an abiding appreciation for reining.
I love your hands, Edie. You didn’t. You said they were ugly: short, fat fingers and too wide. Finding white gloves for dressage was a challange. To me they epitomize you: expressive, gentle, strong and capable. Looking back through the pictures, they tell the story.
Remember how awful Margarita was about getting on the trailer to go home from Brookside? More than once, the little witch. She brought her will of iron into play and the contest was on. You always won. Nowadays she hops on and off without a second thought. We are schooling third level, Edie. Can you believe it?
And then there was the baby. . .Fyrrepower. . .our pride and joy. Lenita’s son. You gave him an incredible start in the world. You laughed at him, loved him and showed him to one sport horse in hand championship after another. Those were golden shows, dear friend.
The first thing Lori told me after he and Jen won their first National Championship was, “Edie is so proud!” She was right. You showed him to his Legion of Honor. You knew he was special from day one. You knew he would excel. Whenever we show, you are with us, cheering us on.
Your friendship is a hallmark of my life.
I miss you, Edie. I remember.
The new year and holiday season are a time of introspection for me. It’s especially so the last few years since both my parents died around the holidays. Reviewing 2010’s shows, the trials and tribulations, the tremendous successes and milestones, I’m reminded how lucky I am to come from a riding family.
My mother rode. Her grandfather owned a livery stable and harness making business in Downer’s Grove, Illinois. Her father worked there, and rode. Dad’s father rode, trained and bred horses, in addition to running a large and prosperous farm. Riding with him and sitting proudly atop one of his draft horses are among my earliest memories.
Horses have been a part of my life all my life.
Mama loved horses, riding and all things equine. Her older sister was more of a ‘girly-girl’ according to them both. My Aunt Georgia Glenn remembers Mama always out on a horse or over at their Grandad Noah Bedsworth’s place or just in general running wild. Mama admitted she was a tom-boy and hated housework. Guess I get this one honestly.
Mama’s stories about her ‘heart horse,’ a gelding she hand-raised are as clear in my mind as if we talked this morning.
He was bred by a neighbor out of the man’s best mare, a saddlebred. His sire was a prestigious saddlebred stallion. For the time, it was an expensive breeding and the neighbor had high hopes for the foal. His hopes were dashed when the foal was born with totally ‘unacceptable’ markings. He was a big, healthy chestnut baby with a wide blaze on his face, one high white stocking behind and the other hind a very high white stocking…so high it came up onto his flank. To add insult to injury, the parti-colored foal’s mare died of milk fever shortly after he was born. Being a pragmatic businessman, the neighbor told my granddad he was going to shoot the little guy and consider the entire thing a total loss, since he was ‘no good to anyone.’
Mama overheard the conversation. Nothing would do but she have the baby to raise as her own. It took some talking but she convinced first her father and then the breeder. She called the foal Peanut. He was a big baby and pretty assertive. He quickly figured out where his meals came from and practically knocked her over every time she went to the barn, looking for eats. Unfortunately, he practically knocked over just about anybody who came into the barnyard. He was not popular with my grandmother.
To buy him a saddle and new bridle, she worked odd jobs after school, picked up and sold hickory nuts to the local general store. Her Uncle Cart who owned the store, helped with the last few dollars she needed.
She started him under saddle. They loved to go and go fast. She rode cross country with her grandfather and his foxhounds. She loved the speed and freedom they shared. He was her transport to her first job, teaching school in a one room school house, the Red Brush School. Peanut was stabled in a lean-to behind the school building.
Central Missouri winters are cold. Mama came early to start a fire in the pot bellied woodstove and stayed late to clean up the schoolroom and make sure the fire was properly banked. By the time she was ready to go home, Peanut had stored up energy to spare and wanted to go. He was off like a shot when she put her foot in the stirrup, long before she was fully astride.
A nosey old lady (Mama’s words not mine) who lived by the school frequently called her mother and complained about their breakneck pace down the road. She was sure Peanut was going to dump Mama or runover someone on the road. “That horse is going to kill Jane Evelyn, mark my words,” she’d say.
I am blessed by this heritage. When I ride, it seems as if a piece of her rides with me. Thank you, Mama, for sharing your joy in riding and love of horses.
The last day is here, well except for the packing up and hauling out on Sunday. We just got here, didn’t we? There is an air of finality about everything today, as well as a determination to do well.
These are flavored with a pinch of introspection. I miss Edie at every turn; have all show. The last few years we showed together are golden pages in my memory book. I celebrate our victories with her in the quiet times when I look at the moon, watch a sunrise or check on the horses late at night. She would have loved this venue. My sneaky plan two years ago was to talk her into coming with us. Why did she have to go and die? Lori tells me often how proud she would be of us. I know she’s right. All year long, at every show, I’ve felt her and know she’s proud of our progress, whether or not we win. This time I truly need her riding with me as showing at the national level scares me silly.
Onward and Upward
Today is a big day. Margarita does dressage. She has one with me and one with Jennifer. Our goals for these tests are wildly divergent. Jennifer fully intends to place in the Arabian Second Level Championship. I plan to get through the Arabian First Level Amateur to Ride Championship ride without embarrassing ourselves or our trainer or going off course or making any one of the three hundred and seventy-six possible ‘dumb errors.’ It’s only first level, right? What can possibly go wrong?
The day is packed — again. Jennifer is up first thing in the morning with the little witchlet who seems in excellent spirits. Stu’s final ride is at lunch time, then Margarita and I go just before 4:00 PM and Lori with Kool Jett at nearly 5:00 PM.
Margarita looks so good all gussied up. She has come into her own this year, both mentally and physically. For once I get a decent running braid in her thick, fine mane. Off we go to the warm-up to join Pip and Harvey who have their final Training Level ride about ten minutes before Jennifer and Margarita go in.
The onion picker is still working, chugging along tossing onions over it’s cab into the huge truck bed. Of course it moves just along the berm adjacent to the dressage courts. Margarita seems unphased, as is Jen. I’m glad it’s not me riding.
This is a decent size class. The higher up the levels you go, the smaller the classes, but there are 28 horses in this one which is more than enough, thank you very much. Since they are early in the class, we have a nice long wait for scores and placings. Wonderful.
The ride looks pretty good from my seat in the peanut gallery. She braces in her neck a couple of times and isn’t completely over her back at other times. She isn’t convinced the amount of collection required at second level is necessary. Keeping her soft through her neck and shoulders is always a challenge. She much prefers training and first, the lazy little witch. Overall, Jen is very happy with her.
Once again, it’s back to the barn to await results and hang out. We pack a few things; do some last minute shopping and just hang out. It is good to have some down time.
I wander around taking photos of other barns’ set ups. Some of the big barns put our trophy display into perspective. This doesn’t change our pride one teensy bit.
And the scores and placings are up. Margarita and Jennifer have a Top Ten! One more for the little mare. Jennifer is so pleased. Were I not dreading my ride, I’d be more excited. We are happy she will get to do an honors round and get her photo taken with her big maroon ribbon. It will be fun to see how she handles all the hullabaloo with horses milling around in tight quarters before the awards ceremony. She likes a lot of personal space, this little witchlet. As Edie used to say, Margarita has a big bubble. This we worry about later.
I Ride at U.S. Nationals
Right atop my worry-meter is our darned first level ride. Margarita seems in pretty good spirits, if a tad grumpy at being waked up from her afternoon nap. She handles being braided, groomed and tacked up yet again with congenial grace. . .for her. Bless her little heart. Jen helps me tack her up and entertains her while I change. It’s navy blue for us today. I decide to wear my hunt cap instead of the top hat. Even though lots of people wear top hats in the championship classes, it doesn’t feel right for me. I have yet to earn it. One of these days we must talk about dressage traditions.
We talk a nice, long, leisurely stroll out to the dressage courts. It is a lovely day. Our warm up is pretty lazy yet relaxed. This is OK by me. Since we ride in the far arena for the first, and last time, I want her to stay relaxed until it’s our turn to go over to the small warm up area just behind our court.
The test goes by in a blink. She wants to die on me in the canter work, I kick her forward, form be damned. She does not break. There are some nice bits in it, including I remembered the test. Not nice enough to place though it does score a personal high for the year with one of the two judges. We will not talk about the second judge’s opinion. She scored us 15% lower. While I totally own it was a less than perfect ride, it was not as bad as she placed us. N’mind. We have a personal best and one more goal achieved. This is a good thing.
I’ve done it. I’ve ridden a U.S. National Dressage Championship class. Jennifer is proud of us. She is especially proud I wouldn’t let little miss quit when she wanted to. This ride is one I will never forget.
But we have a lot to do before we get any sleep tonight!
We have a break before Lori goes on Kool Jett. Jennifer coaches her. This is their first year at third level. They are just on the cusp of getting it perfect. Their warm up goes well as does the test. Unfortunately they don’t score as well as we think they should. It’s late, the show is nearly over. Everybody, including the judges is getting tired.
I stop in the trailer where the hard-working team of volunteers is doing all the scoring and calculating and pounds of paperwork to keep track of and report each ride. It bugs me how few people thank those who make this marvelous show possible. They do a terrific, thankless job.
The Last Award Ceremony
Back at the barn I spiff up Margarita in preparation for her honors round and award photo. She thinks I’ve lost it entirely and look longingly at her unfinished dinner.
When we get to the line up area, it’s a madhouse. Everybody is a little bit silly. Patience has a dimestore tiara on over her top hat. She tries to keep on balanced and her mare’s head but it isn’t working too well. We decide this one is purely for fun. Pip finds a bright pink daisy which we tuck into Margarita’s mane.
The picture taking goes reasonably well. They really move out when it’s their turn for the honors round. Go, Little Mare!
She is such a sweet thing, well, most of the time anyway. Can you tell we have an intersting relationship, this mare and I?
Pip and Stu have invited us for bbq at their trailer. Lori, Jen and I are grateful we don’t have to leave the grounds to eat. We plan to pack everything but the horses, feed and water tubs. Our dinner is wonderful…good food, excellent company and lots of conversation.
Sunday morning the guys from the grounds crew come and help me with the heavy stuff I’ve left to put in the trailer. They are a godsend. Lori comes to chat and say goodbye. Jennifer and her mom left early.
Everything gets loaded. Kool Jett handed off to Patience for his ride home. Lori is off for the airport.
Now it’s just me and the ponies. We get off mid-morning without a hitch. It is a long drive home. Rather than stopping in Winnemucca, which I reach at 3:30 PM, I decide to drive through to Loomis. It will be a long day for us all but worthwhile to be so much closer to home. And to stay with friends. Fyrrepower and Margarita were both born and spent their youngest years at Loomis Basin Equestrian Center.
It is twelve hours to Loomis Basin Equestrian Center and our dear friend Shirley Koch. We are all three glad to be there and get some rest.
The next day we wend our way home. We’ve been gone ten days. It seems we left only yesterday.
It is good to be home.
Basking in the Glow
This is a busy day for our team but fairly light for us personally. Margarita and I have her Arabian Mares Sport Horse in Hand Amateur to Handle class at 12:50 PM. She has long grown bored with this class, but we qualified and it is a class where we can win Breeder’s Sweepstakes point, i.e. money. Since I scratched Sport Horse Under Saddle, the other Breeder’s Sweepstakes class for which we qualified, this is our one chance to earn a little money ‘on the side’ so to speak. She is very polite in these classes, just bored and it shows. The judges want to see a bit of interest in the horse rather than one who is practically yawning in their faces. Plus she is little. These classes are usually won by the bigger boned, taller horses. She holds her own when she’s really ‘on’ though so it will be interesting to see what these judges think.
She gets the full beauty treatment: bath, shampoo and lots and lots of grooming. She practically gleams she’s so healthy and fit. All the trail rides and hill work we do for fun has put some serious muscle on her.
Stu has an early Training Level ride on Small Gee, then the afternoon is full with Margarita and I in hand, Pip and Harvey’s two rides, one Training and one First Level. We will be busy without being crazy.
We have time to sit and admire all the ribbons, roses and trophies Baby brought home.
When our time draws near, Margarita and I wander down to the main arena. She stands up nicely for me in the warm up and looks around at all the other mares with interest. When it is our turn she goes in calmly, stands up proud and perfectly still while the judges take a good long look at her.
I am button-busting proud of her demeanor: interested, quiet and alert. Perfect!
The walk work is a bit slow as she takes time to get a good long look at all the people in the stands and everything going on around her. She picks things up when I ask. What a good girl! This from the mare who normally thinks for herself and ignores me.
The trot work is lovely.
She actually moves out ahead of me at one point; unusual for her and good. She generally matches her trot speed to mine, to the detriment of her movement scores since I can’t run as fast as she can trot.
We stand up for one last look from the judges. And we’re done.
Now comes the waiting. She is smack dab in the middle of the 28 entrants in this class. There are some super nice mares in the class with experienced handlers. I do not hold out much hope of placing though I couldn’t have asked for better work from her. Lori and Jennifer, who were watching, thought we did really well. All that’s left is to wait and see how she places. With the scoring equalization they do, it’s almost impossible to tell by the posted scores whether or not you’ve placed. I talk with the ladies managing the scoring process. It is very fair and removes any inequities due to variance between the two judges, but it takes a lot longer.
I let Margarita graze a bit and put her up to nap.
It’s time for Pip and Harvey’s Training Level ride. Jennifer is coaching them and helps to warm Harvey up. He looks terrific. Their ride is super nice and scores a combined 69%! We have high hopes for a ribbon from it but there are 41 horses in this class so it will be a while before we know.
And they’re in! Harvey and Pip have a Top Ten at Training Level. They come sixth of 41! What an accomplishment and yet another burgundy ribbon for the pop-up.
We are a talented bunch. Even more important we have fun, celebrating and supporting one another’. The sense of community and belonging is incredibly powerful. It is a compelling reason to do this ‘horse show thing.’ There is a bond between those of us who show our horses together which transcends friendship. I am blessed to have these incredible people in my life.
Not to be outdone by Harvey and Fyrrepower, we learn Margarita has made the Top Ten in our in hand class. ‘Miracles never cease,’ I think as I run her back up. We are laughing, talking with the gate folks and having a ball as we move into the arena for the awards. Once again, we are the last ones in for our pictures and they’re waiting on us. Oops, sorry folks.
Margarita looks tiny next to all the other mares. It is a big accomplishment for her to get in. Let’s hear it for the little girls for they are mighty!
The photo shoot is hilarious. Jennifer and Lori are laughing from the sidelines at Margarita’s blase behavior. She is totally unimpressed by the entire thing. Poor photographer and his assistant struggle to get an ‘ears forward’ picture of her. They try all sorts of creative stuff. She looks with disdain at her spiffy Top Ten plaque. They use all the tricks in the book, including Don Stine throwing his hat up in the air. Nope, no soap, ears.will.not.go.forward.
Then Don’s assistant thrusts a bowl of grain in front of her nose and BOING!, up go the ears, out stretches the neck in a perfect arch as she lunges past me to get at the food. It is an absolutely gorgeous shot . . .of her. The look on my face is priceless though not particularly flattering. We obviously need more practice at this award photo thing.
I miss Pip and Harvey’s First Level ride at 2:41 which goes well though I’m told isn’t as smooth as the Training Level ride. Harvey seems to’ve found his groove.
They will have honors round and awards pictures after all the rides finish for the day.
We are all beginning to feel the accumulated tiredness of the long drive and all the work involved with showing. I am moving slower and less concerned about how I look. . . comfort reigns!
Another successful day. Two more Top Ten ribbons for our group.
Before we lose the light, we get some nice pictures of Pip and Harvey with Jen in front of the fountain. It’s fun to see my friends connecting.
It is difficult to believe tomorrow is the show’s last day. We pack some non-essentials and begin to plan our exit strategies. Can it be almost over already? Where did the week go?
Tomorrow will be full: Jen and Miss M have Second Level; she and I have First Level Adult Amateur Owner to Ride. Pip and Stu have one more ride each and Lori closes down the show for us with her Third Level ride on Kool Jett.
We Do It Again
This time it’s my turn to take Fyrrepower in HA/AA Geldings Sport Horse in Hand Amatuer to Handle Championship class. Since we know he is not happy in the covered arena I am more than a tad concerned, however, we’ve paid our money, so in we go.
Getting him ready is a snap as he is very good about keeping his braids neat overnight. Just to be sure they stay nice, the night before I put him in a slinkey. He looks so cute, a chestnut masked avenger. Getting it off is trickier than getting it on. He goes for a quick longe just to get him limbered up relaxed. His white socks get a thorough scrubbing. I dress in my white shirt and khaki pants and we’re off. Lori and Jennifer follow us in the golf cart.
In the warm up area outside the arena entrance he is interested and happy. There are lots of other horses, practicing their stand up or trotting off. He behaves himself impeccably. Lori and Jennifer have come along to watch. I dither about whether or not to bring the in-hand whip in with me. His time is about half-way through the class of 33 horses.
He is fine until we go into the arena. Just as he did with Jennifer the day before, he gets concerned as we walk down the short entrance corridor. The judges are waiting and he goes slower and slower, looking around worriedly. I finally figure out what’s worrying him: the sound system feedback. It sounds like wasps humming. He is looking for the source of the noise. Since there’s nothing we can do about it, we soldier on.
When we get to the judges and scribes, I tell them, ‘This is a four year old and he’s obviously freaked about something in this arena. I’ll do my best to get him to stand still for conformation, but there are no guarantees. You’d better look quick.’ They laugh and agree. As we move toward the area where he’s supposed to stand he begins to whirl around me, eyes bugging out of his head, obviously afraid, poor Baby.
I toss the in hand whip to the side of the judges. We do not need it to rev him up. The judges move around him quickly as I struggle to calm him and get him to stand still, never mind the pretty, proper in-hand stand up. We try it facing one direction, then the other. Doesn’t seem to make any difference. The judges look quick. The lead judge asks if I’m OK taking him on the triangle. They’re worried the little old lady will get trampled. I laugh and tell them we’ll be fine…he needs to move.
The first leg of the walk triangle is a bit wobbley as he looks around, but the more we move, the calmer he gets. He has a nice long stride across the top leg and is relatively straight heading toward the judges. Phew! So far so good.
We move briskly into the trot. He seems relieved to be moving but is also very polite and doesn’t get too far ahead of me. I suspect he doesn’t want to be to far from his ‘security blanket.’ We make the turns with no major mishaps. All the triangle decor remains intact.
Down the final trot leg he gets pretty excited but holds it together long enough to finish. He heaves a huge sigh of relief when we reach the judges again and actually stands relatively still as they do a final look.
When we leave the arena, Lori and Jennifer tell me he moved well. He squeaked out a regional championship without standing still, maybe we have a shot at a top ten. I take him back to the barn and begin the wait. There are a bunch of horses to go before all the scores will be up so we expect quite a wait.
I take him to graze a little. I fuss with Margarita. Lori, Jennifer and I chat for a while. I hate this waiting around. I head back up to the arena to check the scores. There is not as much variance between judges this time. His scores are a touch higher and not all the scores are up. I go back to the barn to fidget some more.
Finally I can’t stand it and take the golf cart back up to see if all the scores are up. Somebody meets me in the roadway and tells me he placed, they’re waiting for us for the award presentations. Quick, back to the barn, bridle him up and race off to the arena. Well, no, he is not in a racing mood. We mostly saunter nonchalantly toward the main arena.
The ring steward is practically vibrating, waiting for us. We are last in for our photo. The photographer and ring steward and some of the audience are shouting conflicting instructions about where to trot him for the action photo. It is a three ring circus and everything happens in a whirlwind. He is happy in the arena now, probably because there are nine other horses who don’t seem concerned. Wonderful. Now he relaxes.
Once all the excitement subsides, I tuck him up for lunch and head up to the awards area to pick up his Top Ten plaque. It’s really nice. I stop by and look at the final scores posted. He is sixth with a 60.6 from John McQueen and a 72 from Peter Hansen. His manners scores are the same as yesterday, 4 and 7 respectively. It gives me the giggles. Not too bad for a youngster who had ants in his pants. Wonder how we’d’ve done had he actually stood up for the conformation?
As we are leaving the grandstands, a couple of people ask about him and tell me how handsome he is and how concerned they were he was going to mow me down. He is one of those horses who gets noticed, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.
JCW Dressage Stall Dressings
Our awards look pretty impressive. Two big maroon Top Ten ribbons and a Championship. Not bad.
An Afternoon of Dressage
Pip has decided she would like Jennifer to ride Harvey in the HA/AA Training Level Open Championship today. After his antics the day before her back is sore. He and Jennifer got along fine when she warmed him up, so she will have two training level rides this afternoon.
First it’s Baby’s turn. The onion picker is rolling up and down just beyond the dressage courts. He isn’t too concerned during the warm up. There are 37 horses in this class. The riders are a who’s who of sport horse trainers from all over the country. He is the youngest horse in the class. It takes most of the day to get through all the rides. They have the same two judges as yesterday; the only difference is they’ve swapped lead judge duties. Brian Ross is lead.
The ride is nearly perfect. He starts to pick up the canter a few strides early, thanks to the onion picker’s proximity at that precise moment. He comes back quickly. All in all it is another ‘what more could you ask’ sort of ride. What a good boy. It will be a long time before we know how they place.
Stu is riding Small Gee in this class too. The look so spiffy all dressed up. Jennifer takes Pip’s Harvey aka Harvest Moon in the class late in the day. They have a lovely go but are not in the ribbons. And Mr. Harvey behaves himself this time which bodes well for the rest of his rides with Pip.
I untack Baby and fuss over him. It feels as if everybody we know is in this class. Patience is taking a horse in. Fyrrepower’s half-brother, Mondavi is in the class with his owner, Jennifer Tobie. I watch everybody warming up and watch some rides. The class takes most of the day to finish. I did say there are 37 horses in this class, didn’t I? The final placing is a nail-biter.
Finally his scores go up and they’re high: combined total 73.2%. He is tied for first place. We wait out the rest of the rides and then the extra time to break the tie. They’re planning to start the awards at 6:30 PM. At 6:00 PM we are still waiting for the tie breaker. And it’s us! . . . by an eyelash. The top two were tied in the collective marks so they went to the gait scores to break the tie. Brian Ross gives them an 81.2%which we think, while wonderful for bragging rights, is too high. Marlene Schneider scores the ride 65.2% which is on the low side. The aggregated 73.2% is a fair score for the ride.
Brian Ross’s overall comment makes us laugh. With his short neck, if Baby goes in a frame with his neck lower, as they want at this level, he falls onto his forehand. Sometimes you just have to go with the lesser of two evils.
Well ridden, could maybe be a little longer and lower in front for the level but still great to watch. Thank you.
One more awards ceremony to which we rush, though we do take the time to put on his white wraps. He is more relaxed and actually trots right out when Jennifer takes him on his honors round. This win includes a lovely embroidered cooler in addition to the trophy, ribbons and roses. We are racking up the loot!
Tonight is the dine around event where various barns serve food and everyone wanders about eating, drinking, talking and having a good time. We are late to the party but enjoy walking around, talking with folks and looking at all the stall decorations. Some of the big barns have gone all out. Really impressive.
Because we didn’t get a lot to eat at the dine around, Lori, Jen and I head out for a late dinner.
Between the classes, getting everybody cleaned up, riding Margarita and running back and forth from the barn to whatever arena we’re in, we are all exhausted. Without the golf carts we’d never make it through this show. Let’s hear it for golf carts!
Tired as we are, it’s been another terrific day. Two more to go. Tomorrow and Saturday. . . Margarita’s turn to shine.
At Last: Show Day!
Today is Baby’s first ever show day at a national championship. He is ready. His braids are incredible. His coat gleams. He is buff and fit. Now all he and Jennifer have to do is strut their stuff. First off is HA/AA Gelding Sport Horse In Hand. Jennifer is taking him in.
They look wonderful. He is relaxed and interested. In the warm up area outside the horse entrance to the covered arena he stands up neatly and behaves himself really well. We are jazzed.
Then it’s their turn. As they walk down the entryway he looks around and becomes very concerned. Lori and I, watch from a distance mystified as to what worries him. They go in.
Side Note: Sport Horse In Hand
This is a class where the horse’s conformation and way of going are evaluated. The horses are scored using a 1- 10 scale, with ’10’ being perfect. There are four general categories:
- Quality and correctness of frame, form to function, angulation and formation of legs and joints
- Gaits: walk, trot and overall movement
- Expression, manners and willingness
- Overall balance & harmony, suitability
The first category, which we generally call conformation, is evaluated with the horse standing quietly in a natural position, legs placed so all joints are easily visible for the judges’ review. The four elements of this category are: head & neck, shoulder and saddle position, back loin & hindquarter and legs & feet.
It is important the horse stand quietly, has a pleasant, alert expression and pays attention to the handler.
The movement portion is shown ‘on the triangle’ which is laid out in the arena as show in the illustration. First you walk the smaller triangle, extending the walk across the top; then you trot the larger triangle with a similar extension. It sounds so simple. It is harder to do than it looks. These triangles are nicely decorated with large planters filled with yellow flowers. There are quite a few spectators in the bleachers. Each of the two judges has a scribe, capturing their comments and scores.
Baby Has Ants In His Pants
When a horse panics, it is pretty impossible to show this class. Baby is very near panic during the ‘stand up’ portion of their go. He will not stand still. Jennifer gives it all she’s got to get him to be still. No soap. Their movement portion goes better, but he is tense. In his desire to leave the area, he kicks over one of the pretty flower-filled planters. Both judges and scribes jump nimbly aside, avoiding flying hooves and arena decor. This does not bode well for his ‘manners, willingness’ score. This is an overall score which colors everything.
The two judges, one from the hunter discipline and the other a sport horse breeder give them wildly diverging scores. This turns out to be fairly common through all the sport horse in hand classes. They get a 71.8 from the sport horse guy with lots of comments and interestingly enough a ‘7’ for ‘expression, manners, willingness.’ Nice guy! I wonder if he was paying attention or just grateful not to have been trampled. The hunter judge is more pragmatic. They score 58.6 with him, including a quite justifiable ‘4’ for manners. AHA uses a score equalizing system which takes in account the wide variance between the judges. Though they were among the last horses to go, there is a nail-biting hour or so until all the tabulations are complete. Despite the evening out process and the kind sport horse judge, they do not place in the top ten.
Considering his behavior, we cannot argue much. It is impolite to knock over the decorations.
After they leave the arena, Jennifer and I realize a boo-boo on our part. I thought Jennifer took him into the covered Monday or Tuesday, to get acclimated to it. She thought I did. Result: totally new place containing some obvious-to-him horse eating goblins. BIG oops.
His first dressage test is later in the day. We know he relaxes in the dressage courts. We have high hopes for the first dressage class as it is for junior horses. Plus Pip and Harvey have their first ride. And Lori Cook takes Kool Jett into the first qualifying section of Arabian Sport Horse Under Saddle late in the day. It is a full schedule.
Pip and Harvey’s First Ride
Their warm up is wonderful. They look relaxed, forward and together. This is going to be a fantastic go. The ride has wonderful elements. Unfortunately, Harvey decides to spice things up with a couple of really spectacular bucks which doesn’t help their score. These judges are not fond of rodeo dressage. I am impressed Pip manages to hang on and looks totally unfazed by his antics. The pictures are pretty nice. Wish I’d caught his ‘airs above the ground.’ Note: double click on the photos to enlarge.
I would never have been able to ride those bucks. Pip is amazing. One of the judges comments on well she handles it. Still doesn’t put them in the ribbons.
The big, lanky stinker. Maybe he has it all out of his system and will behave the rest of the show.
Getting Ready for Baby’s First Go
Jennifer’s mom brings her three year old son, Luke, and her sister over to visit and watch them go. Things get pretty busy around our barn as we get Baby ready to go.
The hardest part about dressage shows is the ‘hurry up and wait.’ Rides are scheduled for a precise time. We generally have a white board for each day listing all the rides, their times, the level and the ring. It shows when warm up should start. From this time you work backward to figure out when to start getting ready. There is no point getting ready too early, especially with a young horse, like Baby. His attention span is finite.
I fidget and have a hard time sitting around chatting.
Finally it is time to get him ready. Luke helps.
Fyrrepower & Jennifer Coyne-Wilhite: HA/AA Training Level Junior Horse
All season this youngster is watched closely in the warm up by other competitors, trainers and spectators. He seems to draw the eye. This warm up is no different. Comments from spectators are positive, flattering and highly gratifying. During the warm up, one competitor asks me what class they are doing. After I tell her, she says, “Thank goodness! I’m not competing with them!” There are ten horses in this class of 4, 5 and 6 year olds. We are pretty confident he will place. It is his first year under saddle so competing with other horses in his age range evens the playing field a bit. Nevertheless, we are keenly aware it’s a horse show…anything can happen.
Jennifer and Baby put in a near perfect test. I watch closely, looking for any bobble and there are none. It is simply gorgeous. He is light forward, obedient and mostly over his back. You don’t see this too often at training level. This is his best test ever. When they come out of court, all I can say to Jen is, “It doesn’t get any better than that!”
The judges agree. Brian Ross, the judge at E, gives them a 77.2%; Marlene Schneider, the judge at C, gives them a 70% for a combined score of 73.6%. They win with a comfortable margin. Not bad for a four year old!
Overall comments from Marlene:
Wonderful horse! Could be a bit more supple in neck & jaw.
Overall comments from Brian:
Very forward ride; sometimes just a little too much and strides shorten as tightness comes in back, but overall VERY well done. Thank you.
We are over the moon! Baby is a champion. Our feet do not touch the ground the rest of the day. My feet rarely touch the ground the rest of the week.
The awards presentation is scheduled to start at 6:30 PM in the covered arena where jumping classes are held. He has not been in this arena. There is a lot of ‘stuff’ in it: jumps, dividing fences, and huge airplane propeller ceiling fans. There are bleachers along one side and a wide promenade area along the other. There is a great deal of coming and going, kids playing, people chatting. . . in otherwords, a lot to look at. When his group is called into the arena he goes in, eyes wide, but he trusts Jennifer and is tired of walking around, waiting outside the arena, anything seems better. One thing this youngster does not do well is wait.
We brought him to the area way early so he is restless and ready to do something. It is after dinner time. He has not yet eaten. He is unimpressed with the gleaming white leg wraps we put on all four legs. We realize after the fact it’s the first time he’s had wraps on his back legs. All in all it is a lot of stuff for a young horse to handle. He trusts Jennifer and goes along, cautiously.
A Word about Arabian National Championship Awards
This is something AHA does really well. The ribbons are huge. Each horse gets a deep maroon Top Ten ribbon and a photo with the large, classy top ten plaque. The Reserve Champion gets a big, flashy red, yellow and white ribbon and necklace of silk roses in blue, red, white and yellow and a lovely trophy which is a copper colored Arabian horse statue on a modest pedestal which is engraved with the show name, class name and date.
Champions receive a gorgeous blanket of red silk roses. It is a highly coveted decoration. The ribbon is red, yellow and blue and HUGE. The trophy is large and impressive: a silver Arabian horse atop a substantial pedestal. Jennifer is impressed you get to keep the trophies. At open championships, like USDF Regionals and CDS Annual Show, the trophies are perpetual. All you get is your photo taken with them and you and your horse’s name engraved on them. I have admired and lusted after the championship trophies and rose blankets for years.
First everyone in the Top Ten lines up, with Baby and Jennifer at the end of the line. They move the Top Ten presentations and photos along pretty crisply. Then the Reserve Champions go for their award; another Region III trainer and four year old horse: Michelle Mahoney and Jessy James. They stand up for their photo then are asked to canter or trot out for a movement photo. Poor Jessy is nearly overwhelmed but they manage just fine.
Finally it is Baby’s turn. The presenter approaches with the coveted blanket of red silk roses in hand and asks Jennifer how he does with this sort of thing. She says, “I don’t know, it’s his first time.” The lady approaches gingerly as Jennifer helps her place the roses across his shoulders and secure the breast band. Baby stands stock still eyes bugging out of his head. He appears to be vibrating in place.
Then the presenter moves in close to him with the trophy and ribbon for ‘the picture.’ Now Baby is pretty cautious with people he doesn’t know. He tolerates being approached but is never comfortable being touched by someone to whom he has not be introduced. It makes for interesting bit checks. The presenter scoots back close to him and brushes his side. He immediately moves away. Rose blankets, ribbons, these he tolerates. Touching is just one thing too many. They sort themselves out and get the picture. It shows how tense and unsure he is about this whole awards thing. At least his ears are forward.
Next the presenter approaches with the large first place ribbon and asks how he does with these on his bridle. Jennifer assures her he is fine with bridle ribbons. The presenter isn’t reassured and approaches him gingerly. They manage to secure the ribbon without issue.
Then the photographer asks them to move out for the action photo, Jen is barely able to get him to trot. From the body language, it is obvious he is thinking, ‘You want me MOVE with all this stuff hanging off me????’
They manage but it is a dicey thing.
Once it’s over, he is obviously relieved to be out of the arena and even more relieved to be back at the barn and get all the ‘stuff’ off so he can eat dinner in peace.
Lori Cook is waiting for us; anxious to hear how it went. She hugs me and says, “Edie is so proud of you all.” She’s right Edie is with us and I know she is button-busting proud.
Jennifer and I float up to the awards area which is in the main covered arena to pick up his trophy. The one used for the photos is a ‘dummy.’ It is incredibly satisfying to walk back through the crowd shopping at the vendors with our trophy. I take my jacket back to The Hat Lady to have the ‘Champion’ patch added to it.
We hang his booty at the stalls and help Lori Cook get ready for her go. Kool Jett is truly a cool dude. He and Lori look terrific. They are in a tough section with lots of nice horses ridden by experienced trainers. There are two qualifying preliminary rounds, called sections, for the open Sport Horse Under Saddle Championship with twenty or so horses in each section. Ten horses will be chosen from each section. These horses then compete in the final championship class. Lori and Kool have a very nice go. He looks so handsome. It is difficult to tell during ‘rail classes’ what will happen. The judges are seated above the show ring in the bleachers. It is impossible to determine which horses are getting their attention. It feels as if the class goes on and on forever. They walk, trot, canter and then extend these gaits in both directions of the arena. Lori and Kool seem to be holding their own. Jennifer and I are surprised and disappointed when they fail to make the cut.
Lori is disappointed as well and very curious as to why they didn’t make it. She is proud of Kool as he worked hard for her and tried his best. This is all you can ask. Their experience reminds me why I do not like rail classes. In sport horse in hand and dressage you get a scoresheet. You may not agree with the judge’s feedback but at least you have clarity on their opinion and why you scored as you did.
As soon as Lori gets Kool untacked and changed, the three of us head off for a late dinner. It’s been a full day.
A terrific first day. Tomorrow we do it all over again.
Life is good.