Thursday, February 27, 2014

Gulfport Weeks 1 & 1.25 – Tales of the controlling horse owner

I know this is hard to believe, but I am a controlling horse owner.  Right, you’re surprised, amazed, and shocked at this revelation.  I keep my controlling nature so well hidden that you could have never guessed this would be the case.  Got it.  

Regardless of how surprising this is, it is true.  I am a controlling horse owner.  First step is admitting your weakness.  Mine would be never wanting to turn the reins over to others (both literally and metaphorically speaking).  After our WEF Melt Down, otherwise known as WMD (I’m not sure a better acronym could exist), Matt and I jointly decided (along with DH approval) to send him to Gulfport.  If you regularly read this blog, you probably already know that.  

What you didn’t know is that sending him to Gulfport means taking a deep breath, recognizing that DC is not the black stallion and others are fully capable of his care, and turning the reins over to the trusted Matt and entourage.  The plan was to let DC have the first week off to do a little hacking, a little schooling, and a lot of regrouping.  This meant I had no reason to be in Gulfport, and it meant I wouldn’t even see my horse for two solid weeks while he was trying to remember how it felt to win ribbons at WEF (pre WMD).  

Given my propensity for control issues, I warned Matt ahead of time:

Me: “You know I’m going to be super annoying and text all the time asking how my horse is.”

Matt: “haha”

Me: “No really, it’s going to be obnoxious.”

Matt: “ok yeah haha.”

Me: “You might not be laughing at text number 234.”

After the first week, I felt very successful at limiting myself to only (approximately) two texts per day. Ok maybe sometimes more, but I promise it averaged out to two-ish.  In general the updates were good.  

Me: “How is he?”

Matt: “Great, got turned out today, had a nice hack.”

Me: “So he seems happy?”

Matt: “Yes most definitely.”

At this point I would have to fight the daily urge to ask 100 questions (as I needed to keep my average down to two), so I would respond with something seemingly cool and blasé like “K thanks.”  I was aiming for a new found zen attitude and self-control.  Sometimes I even succeeded.  

Matt, understanding my quirky (I’m just going to go with quirky ok??) personality even sent me a picture.

Blessed is the trainer who feeds my anxiety with pictures.

This system of zen attitude and self-control was fully in force until yesterday.  

<sidenote> Nothing says zen like having a system for being zen.</sidenote>

Why yesterday?  Well for the first time in the duration of my 24 year show career, I was having a trainer do a pro division on my horse.  There have been sprinklings of time over the years where a pro has done a class or two for me when I’m having a specific problem or I can’t get to the show in time.  But, never before has a pro taken control, and done an entire division prior to my arrival.  I knew that if it was ever going to happen, now would be the time as I needed to be home for work, and DC had some things that needed to be worked on.  

Thus, Matt did his very first 3’3 performance division on DC.  This resulted in a myriad of texts which brought my average well above 2 per day.  

Me: “How is he feeling?”

Me: “How’s the weather?”

Me: “Have you gone yet?”

Me: “Was he fresh?”

Me: “When do you jog?”

Me: “Can I pay someone to video you jogging?”

Me: “Final results?”

Matt being the good sport that he is kindly and patiently answered all of them.  The end result being that despite horrible 40 degree and raining weather and a sloppy ring, DC walked away from the first day of his pro division with a 2nd and a 6th in the performance and a “blue ribbon” in the warm up.  He had a hard rub at the first jump in the second hunter, but was otherwise lovely.  The warm ups in Gulfport are red/blue ribbon rounds.   If you score an 85 or above it’s a blue, if you score a 70-84 it’s a red, below 70 no ribbon at all.

I’d love to share a picture of the ribbons, but alas I feel that that is just too much to ask, even for me. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Things that I like – Issue 1

I have bad news.  I am not always horse showing.  This is both bad news for you the reader, as I’m sure if I was I would be much more entertaining, and me the rider, as I would always rather be horse showing than doing just about anything else.  I should make a bumper sticker.  

Since I am not always horse showing, I am going to have to write about things that are sometimes not horse show related.  This is likely where most people are going to think to themselves, “What? Why bother?”  Good question, but I soldier on.  

So for today’s blog I thought I’d share two things that I like, with plans in the future to share other things that I like.  Why should you care about things that I like?  Not even one reason I can think of.  

First, often people seem to be looking for a good schooling breech.  Up until recently I only rode in Tailored Sportsman TS or Trophy Hunter breeches.  They are pricey for a schooling breech, and honestly not all that durable.  A friend of mine recommended that I try the Tuff Rider Ribb breeches.  She swore that they didn’t show dirt, wore like iron, and were comfortable.  At around 40 dollars, I didn’t really have much to lose.  The low rise version comes in two different cuts, wide waistband with the euro seat, and regular waistband with the normal cut.

For my first pair I ordered the regular waistband in black.  I have to honestly say, these live up to all of the billing my friend gave them.  The fabric is very flattering, doesn’t get baggy and loose after a day of several rides, but also doesn’t cling and isn’t too tight.  It looks a bit like corduroy, and I liked the textured feel.  The black was not perhaps the best of choices, as my experience with the TS dark colors is that show dirt of every kind (think like a black car).  But these Tuff Riders seemed to magically repel dirt and looked great even after a 4th or 5th horse.  They are super comfortable, stretchy, and definitely a breech I can wear all day without thinking about it.  My fellow Costco shoppers will attest that I did indeed wear them all day.  I hardly even notice the strange looks I get as I do errands in breeches, boots, and half chaps.  I wonder if people just think I’m making an odorous fashion statement.
On top of all this, they come in several colors, and as I mentioned are around 40 dollars.  Not sure you could ask for more.

Second is the Sunshield Long Sleeve Shirt by Smartpak.  

I have to admit, when these high tech sun shirts started appearing in the schooling rings at shows, I was quite dismissive of them.  To me there was absolutely no way that a long sleeved shirt could ever be as cool as a short sleeved one.  Over the summer I purchased one of these so called sun shirts in Colorado, just to try it out.  That shirt proved my theory right.  It was hot, uncomfortable, and I just simply didn’t like it.  

Then over the winter I was looking for a layering top for under my many many layers that I wear riding in the cold.  I hate the cold.  My “personal shopper” at smartpak convinced me to try one of their sunshield shirts for this purpose, and added on, that maybe I could try it when it warms up just to give it a chance.  So I ordered one in the silver color.  

True to her promise, the shirt is perfect under a fleece and coat when it’s cold.  It breathes and doesn’t make me too hot, but gives just the right amount of insulation.  Over the weekend I wore the same shirt on a day that I thought was going to be a little chilly, but ended up rising into the low 90s.  To me, a little chilly is 80 degrees.  The sun was HOT, and it was definitely a hot day.  I felt completely cool and comfortable.  It didn’t cling, I didn’t sweat too much, and in general I just loved it.  

The Sunshield shirt has converted me to the dark side of long sleeved summer wear. 

Shirt and breeches in action on Ashton, a friend's horse that she asked me to come ride for her!

Friday, February 21, 2014

WEF Reflections

I’d say these are deep thoughts, but I’m no Jack Handey.

  1. Even the best of the best have to deal with equine mishaps, and on a regular basis.  Prior to this experience I always went into the ring with a nervous tic, worried about what everyone else was thinking about me, my horse, my riding.  The bigger the names around, the more nervous I got.  I honestly can say that this experience has allowed me to relax a little about my trips in the ring.  Part of that is the fact that my horse played/bucked around one of the biggest stages, and those serving as witness were supportive and sympathetic.  The other part is watching even the best horsemen in our industry struggle with their own equine demons.  I watched the hunter/jumper big names have stops, spooks, bucks, rears, shies, crashes, runaways, and otherwise.  Horses are horses, and although I don’t want to paint the picture that this was the majority, I saw a little bit of everything.  This made me realize that those that are standing at the side of the ring being judgmental simply haven’t had the opportunity to gain some humility that can only be granted by a horse who decides they don’t want to go along with the game plan for whatever horse given reason.  Even those who have a barn entrance that looks like this will struggle from time to time.

  2. All of the buildup that is given around WEF is true, and then some.  Often when someone describes an experience they’ve had, the hype exceeds the reality.  Granted this is my own personal take, but in this situation, the reality actually exceeded the hype.  I could not have imagined how big, how many horses, how many cute foreign men, and how awesome the experience of WEF is.  I know it is humdrum for a lot of people out there, but I can’t imagine a horse show being bigger or more exciting than this one.  Friday and Saturday night entertainment, shopping, beach 30 minutes away, weather, real estate that is completely built with equines in mind, and the ability to immerse yourself in different disciplines brings a truly unique atmosphere that for me is unrivaled. 
  3. Sometimes the best of friends are those you haven’t met yet.  I mentioned this before, but I met my WEF host via the Chronicle of The Horse Bulletin boards.  When I posted that I was going, she went out on a limb and offered me a place to stay for my WEF experience.  Luckily, it turned out that she is not an axe murderer, and I made a new friend that I hope to have for life.  She opened her place to me and all of my assorted on going adventures with as much friendship and grace as I thought possible.  That and she made allowances for my new found Florida avocado obsession, this being a key part of our bonding experience.
    Welly-side  That's right, I'm about as white girl as they come.
  4. DH really is the best DH I could ask for.  Not even ONCE did he ask me what all of this is costing, and trusts that I will make good financial decisions (oh dear, this could be a downfall).  He drove DC and I to Florida, turned around and flew directly home, then flew back and drove me home to Austin. No question in his mind about what a pain that all would be, just did it for me so I could have this experience.  When things weren’t going well and I was stressed beyond reason he made me take a step back and said “You’re not there to win, you’re there to have a good time.  As long as you’re having a good time, I don’t care about the money, I don’t care about winning, I care that you’re doing what you love.”  Then when a decision needed to be made on if we should send DC to Gulfport, after much discussion, and reasoning, he didn’t say “no” he said “Is there a good golf course there?” Seriously.  I picked a winner.
  5. Though still young and green, DC is truly a unique gem of a horse that I am beyond blessed to own.  There are few American bred horses competing at that level, even fewer still that are only coming 7, and even fewer than that that only can claim a handful of pro rides to their name, and no pro division during the week.  Actually, he might just be the only one.  I feel like he’s a Dr. Pepper 1/1 commercial.  Hey maybe I could pitch it to their marketing department.  
  6. Astroturf is the fabric of the show jump future.  Or some sort of awesome slogan like that.  
    Why even bother with the flowers?
  7. Lastly, life is short.  It’s so cliché I know, but it’s true.  While I was in WEF, a woman fell from her horse and died in surgery a short time later as a direct result of her fall.  It can be scary to think of how one small thing can change everything.  I try to take a true 'seize the day' mentality and live life to the fullest.  You just never know what the greater plan is for you.  As those youngin's of today would say  YOLO!!!  

I am so lucky to have had this experience, and can’t wait for Gulfport!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

WEF Day 16 - Last day. :(

I am terribly sad to say that officially, this is my last day at WEF.  It has been such an amazing time, and has lived up to my every expectation (except that blue ribbon, I still want that blue ribbon).  I will say, if you are a horse person, and you ever have the opportunity to come here, showing or not.  DO IT.  PERIOD.  Don’t doubt it, just go. 

Prior to heading to the barn, I headed to pick up my trailer.  Earlier in the week I had dropped it off at a well-known Sundowner retailer who also specializes in refurbishment.  My trailer is a 99’ model 2 horse straight load with extra-long tack room.  He is beautiful, and I love him, but just like any good item, some maintenance is required.  Being a 15 year old trailer (manufactured in 98), it was time for a good overhaul.  Although somewhat pricey to get done, the results were amazing.  It looked like I had a brand new trailer when they were finished.  They did several fixes on small things here and there, but mostly the biggest impact was that I got it pressure washed, acid washed, and waxed.  So shiny and pretty!

You might remember that our plan for DC was to do the light ride the day before, and then school over fences on our last day.  For this school, we were heading back to Ralph’s in Grand Prix Village.  I wish I could tell the tale of a horse no longer looking for the attack turtle, and a rider who having already ridden to Ralph’s clearly did not get lost, but alas, this is the tale of DC and Anna, so of course neither of those things came true.  However, the saddest moment of the day was that I forgot my phone on our trek to Ralph’s, thus I have no photographic evidence of the experience.  

We made it over to Ralph’s in a record setting 40 minutes.  By record setting, I mean the slowest possible record.  I think I could walk there on foot faster.  Getting lost and looking at every bush along the way takes time.  As we hacked around waiting for Matt, two young guys were schooling equally as young jumpers.  I absolutely love to watch others’ lessons.  I feel like I learn almost as much as I do riding myself.  

DC hacked beautifully, but I have to say with all honesty, I was a bit nervous.  After our semi-melt down in the ring, I didn’t know what kind of horse I would have.  I am thrilled to say that scratching for the weekend was absolutely the right thing to do.  His brain somehow managed to crawl back into his head (it was a long trip from being left in the middle of the WEF arena to DC’s skull, I was proud of the brain for making it) and he schooled like million bucks.  The lesson of the day was to let him make his own mistakes, and don’t protect him all of the time.  If he never learns to take care of himself, he’ll never be successful as I will at some point make a mistake.  

Interestingly, it was a similar message to the young men schooling the jumpers when I arrived.  It seems that often riders do too much in the schooling ring, protecting their mounts.  You have to put them out there to learn their own lessons at some point.  DC’s reckoning I guess.

Following my school, I made my way back to the barn, where I proceeded to pack all of my and DC’s things to get ready for the trip to Gulfport.  It was bittersweet, as I was excited to go to Gulfport, but I did not want to leave Heaven, otherwise known as West Palm Beach.  In more exciting news, DH flying to Florida to help me drive back, and I was excited to go pick him up! 

That afternoon we spent some time hanging out by the pool with Suzanne, and then headed to the Key Lime house for a goodbye dinner.  

I swear this shark was making a perfect DC impression.  I really wanted to ride him but Suzanne and Stephen were total killjoys.

We topped the day off with watching the 100k WCHR hunter spectacular back at the show.  DH was enthralled by all of the pretty jumping horses and amazing grace.  Or he spent a lot of time at the bar, either way.  

With a planned early start the next day, I said my final goodbye to WEFshowland, and headed back to the condo.