Thursday, September 6, 2012

Living the Dream

While I am not serving as personal assistant to the great Wil'Ya Love Me, my teaching and training business is steadily expanding! And by steadily I mean that I really don't have time to sleep, take a vacation, do laundry, or visit that mythical place called the beach?? This summer has been non-stop between traveling to shows, teaching camps, house-sitting, riding all of the horses in training, riding my own horses, and teaching upwards of 37 consistent students. PHEW! (yes I had to do a headcount to order DGE logowear... coming soon!).

Have any of you noticed my SUPER FREAKING AMAZING NEW SADDLE THAT ACTUALLY FITS MY HORSE AND I????? Well please keep your drooling away from my beautiful new piece of equipment that is currently covered in bubble-wrap. I am so excited to announce that my 2G CWD saddle has arrived! I am so lucky to be in CWD's program... the saddle speaks for itself. For the two shows I have used it... Willy has not touched a show jumping rail! This saddle keeps my lower leg right where it is supposed to be, and I feel so secure! This is no easy feat with my long thigh, ghetto-fabulous rump, and the fact that I need to jack my stirrups up so high because I am on a pony! Oh wait, the saddle also can't go over his shoulder or be too large in the seat. Somehow CWD did it! I cannot say enough good things about the equipment itself and the wonderful service! Ugh I am in love! I was a very proud professional to sport the CWD logo on my saddle pad! Several of my students have already converted and boy everyone's position is much improved... and their horses are going like a million bucks! Willy loves it. I love it. What more could I ask for?

Unfortunately the young horse I was super excited about, Adam, has degenerative navicular disease. Nothing I did or didn't do could have prevented this. My vet, who ALWAYS recommends some cutting edge treatment or very expensive plan A/B/C/D/E/F, said to throw him out in a field and cut my losses. I was completely devastated. It's interesting how he passed the vetting with flying colors and a month later he was dead lame. Oh well, live and learn. Luckily I was able to find him a new home via Thoroughbred Retirement Program, and he is living in Indiana trail riding in a western saddle!

My "dangerous" little red mare, Whynn, is progressing quite well. I say"dangerous" because her former owner was quite certain that this mare was beyond all hope and had even scheduled a date for the vet to put her down! While Whynn is definitely a sensitive red-head mare who has her own opinion on just about everything, she is such a sweetheart on the ground and is quite athletic! Most of her attitude comes from things she doesn't understand. So I basically started with her from the ground-up. Most days we are now able to walk, trot, canter, jump, and even hack outside! Recently she has been more "opinionated" than normal, and it turns out she tested positive for lymes. UGH! Oh well, hopefully she will be feeling better shortly and we will be hitting some schooling shows this fall!

So I find myself horse shopping again. Joy. Most people (when you are looking at inexpensive 'eventing' prospects) characterize event prospect horses as "hunters that were too hot", "Jumpers that were not tidy enough", "Dressage horses not fancy enough", "Foxhunters that bolt and cannot under any circumstance stand still", or "horses who are generally too dangerous". While I have no problem working with difficult horses... I need to purchase horses that could be easy to resell in case they decide upper level eventing isn't their cup of tea. I can't wait to see what I end up getting this time! (I'm slipping on my air vest now)

All of my students are doing great! Morgan and Kelsey A achieved the D2 USPC rating. DGE has had so many successful outings at events all over area 2... and I know that trend will continue through the fall! Hopefully in the next couple of days I can find some additional pictures and put them on the new and improved website!

More to come later!

Advanced... Accomplished!

This past season has been surreal to say the least... and we are only half way done!

I no longer question if my super pony can handle the height, width, and technicality of the advanced courses. He has attacked each and every course, with a level of cockiness that can be obtained when you are the only pony in the USA jumping 4'3" in three-day eventing. While we continue to be amazed by Willy's jumping prowess, his growing affinity towards the dressage phase is perhaps the most remarkable development over the past six months. Much of that is due to Jo Young, who began the transformation in Aiken, and Donna Ruth who has the distinct pleasure of seeing my smiling face every week as I attempt to do "gymnastics" in dressage (yes it is just as painful as it sounds).

Historically Willy and I play the "catch-up" game - posting a dressage score that warrants judge's comments "interesting interpretation of the halt" or "horse was rather distracted while rearing." The reality of the situation is - Willy will never be top 5 in the advanced divisions after dressage. The horses at this level don't trot, they float. And while it is sometimes frustrating watching these 5/6 figure horses warm-up, I am satisfied knowing that my beloved pony is giving every ounce of what he has. He has surpassed any and every goal we could ever have imagined for him. And surprisingly enough, he has become competitive on the flat! When Willy is on his game, he can produce a steady, consistent, accurate test. Nothing flashy, but filled with workmanlike obedience. And judges are rewarding this with somewhat competitive scores (typically mid to high 30s).

This past year, Willy and I celebrated our 13th anniversary. Talk about an old, married couple. I am incredibly spoiled with this athlete - he knows what I want practically before I do! We read the subtle changes in each other's demeanor, detect the slightest shift in weight coming towards a fence, and (most importantly) we know when to ignore each other.

I have become incredibly aware of what is going on underneath me, particularly while we are at competitions. I tend to be VERY careful with all of my horses - opting to pull up or scratch rather than risking anything. Much of my excessive diligence comes from my background in pony club (read HORSEMANSHIP). Most of my "mother hen"(also called neurotic obsessive over the smallest things) nature stems from the fact that... this is it. These select few horses are all I have. I don't have a string of horses ready to replace whichever horse broke this time out. So, I exercise extreme caution. Regardless if they are going elementary or advanced, they are each treated like the spoiled rotten ponies they are!

Anyway, I digress. Over the course of the spring I knew something just wasn't 100% with Willy. He was flatting GREAT, jumping GREAT, galloping OK. I was hitting a bit of a wall in his conditioning... around 5/6 minutes on course, Willy would really struggle to give me his second wind. I talked to several top trainers, discussed diet change, tweaked his training regiment, gave him "energy boosts", ran his bloodwork, and did a lameness evaluation. Nothing. Everything pointed that, yet again, i was being overly paranoid. Months later, after a dressage lesson Willy endured a pretty bad colic. We rushed him up to New Bolton in PA and kept him there overnight. Long story short, it turns out he has right dorsal colitis.... or a colon 3 times the size of normal. Lots of kisses and a diet change later.... I have my rotten pony back! AND..... HE WON HIS LATEST OUTING. We ran the intermediate at Loudoun to make sure he was feeling great and well... he galloped beautifully! I know it was a shorter course, but I had a lot of horse left... which felt great!

Onward to Plantation, Morven, then Fair Hill CCI** (qualifications for a spring ***).


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Southern Comfort

Phew WE MADE IT! How one person can pack so many clothes and other miscellaneous belongings (alas less than last year's attempt at "consolidating") to take up an entire truck??? Thanks in large part to my wonderful girls at the barn, the horses and myself were packed and made the 7 hour trip to Southern Pines, North Carolina - Defying Gravity Eventing's destination event in March. Embarking on our great adventure was Louie and his fabulous rider (and DGE student Kelsey), Woody (who would be competing in his first event ever - at training), and the superstar advanced pony Willy. Kelsey and I arrived at the Carolina Horse Park with just enough time to walk the training level cross country, since our dressage and cross-coutnry would be run the following day - and times were pretty tight. Willy was also set to do dressage, but would run one phase each day (friday, saturday, sunday). The course looked rather small, but definitely asked some challenging questions - particularly with this being Kelsey's first outing of the season and Woody's first event ever! Both Kelsey and I were left wanting in the dressage arena. Woody put forth a great first effort, but I know there is so much more in this horse! I am so excited about his future - unfortunately he is a rather large horse and the arena is quite small, and he became a bit overwhelmed by the atmosphere, which then made my job more "entertaining" shall we say? This winter I have been completely revamping Louie and Kelsey's dressage - and it is always a challenge to let go of old habits in the competition arena. For the first test of the season, I was a proud mama! We have lots of room for improvement, but hot darn are they on the right track. Willy's dressage was such an improvement over our Pine Top performance. He was focused, and actually allowed me to ride him through the movements instead of holding our breath. His score was in the low 40s, and again I was quite pleased with the little superstar! Cross-country for the training horses went beautifully. Louie skipped around the course, making it look like an easy novice - a testament to some darn good riding. Woody made the course look like child's play until we had a bit of a steering issue at a turn to corner. No big deal though, I am SO SUPER DUPER EXCITED about this horse - it was by far the most fun I have ever had on a cross country course. He really shines in this sport, and this horse has all the makings of something truly special. Louie and Woody also show jumped well, Louie pulling one rail to finish in the ribbons, and Woody pulled a couple - mostly due to fatigue! A great weekend for these two, and I am so excited for all that is to come! The rest of Willy's weekend was nearly textbook. The advanced cross-country was eating people alive. Most of the first advanced division fell off at the water, but Willy made it look like an easy gymnastic exercise. This was by far the biggest and most technical course we have tackled in quite a while... and while we snagged a silly runout in the last combination, I was so proud of this little guy! There are quite a few youtube videos that surfaced after the event of Willy going through the water. - check that little pony out! Show jumping was amazing yet again, although Willy was feeling a tad on the fresh side! He had one unlucky rail at the very end of the round, but otherwise beautiful - especially since most of the other horses went bowling. Yay for advanced super ponies =)

Long Overdue Aiken Recap... Blue Numbers!

It seems that with the everyday struggles of building my business, getting all of the horses worked, working my second job to help pay for said horses, and possibly spending time with family/friends have tremendously interfered with my blogging. Never fear, I will update you all! I have such exciting news to share, but I think it is best to start right where I left off...Aiken, South Carolina. Three horses made the 10 hour trip down to our winter home at Jumping Branch Farm in Aiken this year. Woody "WoodView" owned by a friend/client was to make the trip to finish his rehab on a collateral ligament injury (since the sand in Aiken is quite a bit softer than the frozen tundra back home). My new partner, Adam, was the second 17+ hand horse to make the trip down after purchasing him just two weeks prior to leaving. Both of these wonderful giant horses were coming to get jump starts on being "big time" horses, schooling at different farms, lessons with top trainers, etc, etc. The star of the show (as always) was my partner of 13 years, the 14.3 hand superstar, Wil'Ya Love Me (aka Willy). Working with Sally Cousins, Colleen Rutledge, and Richard Lamb, we had big things planned for the pony this year. Last year, our fall season was cut short after a freak fall at Seneca Valley Horse Trials. To make sure all of our ducks were in a row, we were going to start off at a preliminary event, then one intermediate, and if all went PERFECTLY… an advanced. Beyond that no plans, just focusing on the here and now. Woody and Adam had a fabulous time in Aiken, becoming instant best friends forever. I took several lessons on them with Richard, getting fabulous results and even went to a couple of farms for XC schooling. Neither horse was confirmed enough on the flat to warrant competing against the best of the best in Aiken, so we continued to work, improve, and have fun! Willy on the other hand was all business. We found an absolutely wonderful dressage trainer, Canadian Jo Young, who was transforming our flatwork from "barely broke" to "competitive." Once a week I would head over to Sally's for a jump school, and Willy was jumping better than ever! We started off in the preliminary at Sporting Days, which while we had a fabulous result, was terrifying. Willy didn't look at a thing - rather he was SO SUPER FREAKING EXCITED TO SEE XC THAT WE MUST GALLOP AS FAST AS POSSIBLE OVER THE RIDICULOUSLY SMALL 3'6" FENCES. What I realized is, now that Willy was jumping 4'3" consistently... he thought 3'6" was pathetic and not worth his time. Not really fun for me, but we finished on a great score to place us in 3rd right behind Jan and Sally. So far - so good. The same was true for Pine Top. Cruised around the intermediate like the champion he is. Now a two week break before the big test. During our bootcamp weeks, several of my clients from back home came to enjoy some sunshine and sand. I think it is safe to say everyone worked hard but had a fabulous time. Then, before I knew it the weekend of the advanced Pine Top was here. Luckily Richard said he would help me with my jumping courses to decrease the likelihood of me riding like a monkey - since my pony would actually need me to help him around the fences that came up to his ears! Dressage was not our best effort, but it wasn't as catastrophic as I thought it would be. There were some nice moments and some moments where we became a bit air-bound (insert flying change NOW). But our score was under a 50, which was my goal for our first attempt. SUCCESS! Particularly in a division filled with the top contenders for the London Olympic Games. Tacking up for XC, some pretty scary dark clouds were looming over the parking area. As I put my foot in the stirrup (I was the 3rd horse on course) WHOOSH. Rain came pelting down so hard and fast. Everyone ran into the trailer and hid with Willy to wait for the worst of it to stop. Unfortunately the rain was so bad that the organizers deemed it unsafe to run and moved both jumping phases to Sunday morning.... just what i needed, more time to think about the HUGE jumps waiting for me. The show jumping course was quite tricky and HUGE. It was filled with max height and width oxers, and required several tight rollbacks. For the first time in what seems like a century, I left the ring with a huge grin on my face. Willy performed flawlessly, jumping the heck out of each and every large fence. I earned a gold star as well, maintaining an appropriate canter and seeing all of my distances at least 5 strides away. Phew. Now onto the fences that don’t fall down if you mess up. The cross country once again rewarded positive, forward riding over all of the large/wide tables. After walking the course four times, I was quite confident about the technical aspects of the course – with the exception of the large, downhill bounce at the tail end of the course. Willy came out of the box acting pretty cheeky. He was spooking at the flowers, photography (sorry Mark!), various blades of grass, etc until finally I decided to give him a motivational "whack" with my stick before the fourth fence - and that seemed to finally get his attention. The first combination was fabulous, two downhill rolltops, then a maxed out table and then onto a tough question - big table, up a mound to a log, down the hill to a right point corner. Willy made quick work of this element, the first water, quite a few more maxed out tables, the bounce combination that I was terrified of, and finally the second water. Before I knew it - we were home safe! Our first advanced - finished CLEAN! I could not have been happier. So finally we headed back to the land of the Mary - with a new advanced super pony!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Matchmaker, Matchmaker... is the BIG NEWS. Deacon has SOLD to new student Kelsey! It has been a wonderful four years brining Deacon along from a just starting out 6-year-old to a seasoned preliminary horse and even jumped around an intermediate! He is a fabulous horse, who had all the makings of being a quality, competitive upper level horse. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a trainer - seeing a horse I produced go on and teach someone else the finer points and thrills of the sport! Deacon LOVES having a little girl to call his own... he is eating up all of the attention (and cookies!).

This year we have paired....
Janet with Irish Star
Grace with Savannah
Hayley with Holly
Rachel with Aaron
Sue with Peaches
Janet with Bella
Hayley with Smokey
Kelsey with Deacon
Susan with Cody
..... whew! What a year it has been! Not bad for DGE's first full year in Maryland!

In other news... DGE was well represented at the January Serra Valley Jumper show. Big Kelsey was champion in the 3'3" division with her wonderful horse Louie, and put in a fabulous showing in the 3'6" division. Kelsey and Louie have been working all winter on taking their game to the next level... and boy are they a pair to look out for this season! Little Kelsey made her competition debut with Deacon, and did they clean up! They competed primarily in the 2'9" division and even won a blue ribbon! For extra measure we did one of the 3' classes... and they WON! Whew, what a way to start the year! My students definitely set the bar high for me traveling down the Aiken!

Now for my update... I HAVE BEEN BOY SHOPPING!!! I wanted to find someone close to home, long legs, a great heart, and of course a nice butt! Okay kids, get your mind out of the gutter.... I am talking about horse shopping of course! What a horribly painful process this is. (I know my teachers are cringing ending a sentence with a preposition) As soon as you say "event prospect" people start throwing horses of all shapes and sizes at you... crooked legs, "great personalities" (aka bites, kicks, bucks, rears, and dumps you for good measure), "over 16 hands" (aka medium pony). People at least around here, seem to think that horses that have failed at every other job can, at the very least, be an event horse. These days this can hardly be true, as event horses are drastically becoming fancier, braver, and jumping better than just 10 years ago.... trust me, I see them in the dressage ring ahead of me every weekend (since when is a BN horse doing 3rd level dressage????). Anyway, i digress. I vetted five horses... so much heartache... until i finally found one that met our high standards! WELCOME TO THE TEAM, ADAM! Adam was found through the help of a friend, and he is 17+ hands, 6 years old, all bay with no white, and ALL LEGS! He has fabulous jump and we hope he starts to settle in and likes his new job! He will be making the long journey to Aiken along with Woody and Willy. More about Aiken shortly... we have a 17.1 hand horse, a 17 hand horse, and a 14.2 hand pony. Guess which one will be going Advanced? :)

Until we venture down to the sunny south!