Thursday, April 17, 2014

Keep Calm and the Countdown Begins



While most people look forward to the flowers, the longer days and the closer proximity to the summertime that Spring brings with her, ask any event rider with a pulse and he or she will tell you the true meaning of the spring time: Rolex! Yes our nation's only four star is finally here and I'm lucky enough to once again have the chance to compete in one of the world's most prestigious events amongst the riders who are commonly seen in magazines and on my mighty little OTTB Anthony Patch (patriotism at its finest).

This year's Rolex will be "Al's" fourth four star which still stuns me considering it was nearly twelve years ago I bought the scrawny little bay horse bred and trained by Tom Swales of New Jersey, USA.

As many of you know, Al and I have been teammates for over a decade and have been fortunate enough to have represented our country abroad, competed at the highest level of our sport and most recently won the American Eventing Championships and Gold Cup Series in the fall of 2013 in Tyler, Texas.

With all the experience (as a team) under our belts, my priority in getting Al to Rolex this year was to have him happy, healthy and sound. Being that Al isn't a spring chicken anymore, my coach and I made the decision to run him lightly in the preparations leading up to Rolex with our focus primarily being in "quality" over "quantity." After a good stretch of the legs at Rocking Horse at the intermediate level, Al and I entered Red Hills CIC *** (one of my personal favorites) in hopes of obtaining a positive and conditioning round. With an unforgettable dressage test in the monsoon-like conditions placing us in fifth in a hefty field of horses, we finished in the pink ribbon position and simultaneously re-qualified ourselves to compete in Kentucky at the end of April.

Our next show and final outing before the big day was held in Norwood, NC...which also is home to Kellie Pickler (any first year American Idol fans out there?) and of course lots of calamari (you'll have to have watched A.I. first season to get that joke). The Fork Horse Trials is notoriously known to be the preview event for what's to be expected at Rolex. However, It also happens to fall only three weeks before the first trot up which can pose a risk for any eventer.

Now every other year that I have entered Rolex I have chosen to run Al across the difficult advanced track that The Fork offers. However, due to his slightly elevated age, the ground being a little on the hard side and the fact that Al is seriously a jumping freak of a butterfly horse, the decision was made to save him for the big day....which is actually ten days away. Gulp!

I have to admit that were it not for the fact that I trained Al from beginning novice to four star or the fact that I've had the pleasure of owning him since he was a four year old, I may not be driving into the Kentucky Horse Park with utmost confidence. However, there's just something about the long arduous journey that beings with training your horse to successfully complete a twenty meter circle without falling out of the canter and slowly turns into galloping through the finish flags at Rolex beaming from ear to ear that really adds the "pep" to my step. I'm a firm believer that a course, no matter the level, is only as tough as the relationship you have with your horse and when push comes to shove Al will have my back the same way I will do my best to protect his. After all who needs Red Bull....Al gives me wings!

To Rolex and beyond! See you guys outside the galloping lanes!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Unfinished Business

Many feelings come to mind when reminiscing about the happenings that occurred this year in 2013. Truth be told that when I really sit down and reflect on the difference this one year has made in my life, I keep coming back to the same nagging notion: 2013 was a year of “unfinished business.” That isn’t to say that I am unhappy with the wins with Al this year, it’s just that the success was so short-lived, being that I only had three advanced runs with him before his season was over. I feel like I have so much to prove and that I am finally beginning to ride the horse the way he always should have been ridden and I only hope to be able to pick up in Florida where we left off following our most honorable performance to date at the American Eventing Championships. Winning the Gold Cup aboard Al was not only a dream-come-true for me but for my closest supporters, ahem my mother and my grandparents, it was a time where we ALL shared the spotlight. Coming back from my accident in 2008 was obviously difficult to face on a personal level, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it took even more guts for my family and friends to watch me fall and WANT to try again. My unbridled passion for horses has been apparent ever since I was a small child chasing after my mom alongside the abandoned rail road tracks in Shingle Springs, California. Despite tossing me into every other sport in addition to persuading me to join the theater and acting class, nothing could trump that need to gallop across the countryside on horseback. I had to learn at a young age (as every horse lover learns sooner than later) that falling is a frequent occurrence when dealing with horses and in order to be the best, I had to push through those fears and mental struggles and just RIDE. And that’s what I love so much about the sport of eventing. The very thing that nearly took my life is what actually GIVES me breath by providing me the internal strength and motivation to succeed. “Eventing” doesn’t care about what level you participate, what breed your horse is and how much your saddle costs...rather, it’s sole focuses are grit and determination: the two ingredients that separate us event riders from the rest of the sane and financially stable world. The sudden loss of my Lyle (aka: The Big Island) is another reason why 2013 left me with sense of incompleteness. Lyle was an off-the-track Thoroughbred that towered over his counterparts standing eighteen hands tall. After bypassing him three times, my mother was guilted into buying him when he would not stop following her around his pasture. After having him only a month, mom flew me out to California where I competed him at novice level at his first event at Woodside. Immediately it was love at first ride. Fast forward two years and Lyle was dominating the intermediate level as a six year old long-legged steed with a heart as big as his stature (and in a loose ring snaffle I might add). Losing him didn’t only create a void in my eventing horse arsenal, it dislodged a large piece of my heart as a part of it died with him on that damp and misty Ocala morning in February. My mother has always reminded me that “when one door closes another one opens” and that I should always be ready with a backup plan. Losing Lyle was a door I was not ready to have slammed in my face, however welcoming my four year old Jockey Club registered homebred, Calling All Comets to my east coast farm was one door I could not wait to open! I am so lucky to have a youngster as talented and eager to learn as he and the fact that he is bred by my mother AND that he’s full Thoroughbred is only icing on the cake! Although mom and I have believed in him from day one (literally), it’s always nice to hear that reaffirmation from someone as all-knowing as William Fox-Pitt. I am now eagerly awaiting the moment I get to canter down the centerline with him at Rolex, most likely competing against Mr. Fox-Pitt...now if only I could fast forward another four to five years! 2013 might have not been my banner year to date, but it’s left me with a taste of victory and a yearning for more. I am hopeful that both Al and I can finish what we started this year at Rolex in 2014 and after that...well that’s for the eventing gods to decide. Until then, sit back, gobble up and enjoy the downtime with your family and friends. Enjoy the holidays, the desserts (sans the extra lbs) and the awesome movies that celebrate the festive season. I hope you have the “hap hap happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny (bleep) Kaye”. Thank you Clark Griswold. Thank you. See you in the gallop lanes in 2014!

Monday, December 10, 2012

USEA Convention High Performance Meeting Notes

Dec. 6 2012 High Performance Meeting (Am Session) The ROAD TO EXCELLENCE What does it take to get to the top? -our sport is different, not a lot of education through the levels. Very systematic. How do they talk about their coaches, plans, progressing an athlete? We need to pay more attention to this. We aren't any more special....the horses is just something that we do. -do you study like a professional? How much time do you spend in a classroom? Football, basketball, hockey spend a TON of time in the classroom! -we all need to have a unilateral sense of vocab (ie: impulsion---> if you ask four riders they have differing opinions as to what “impulsion” is) *HOW GOOD DO YOU WANT TO BE? -do you want to be an olympian? what does that mean to you? -do you want to be number one in the world? What does that mean to you? -Motivation is KEY. These things have to be out in front of you to keep that motivation! -team player? Good? Teacher? instructor? WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE?! -being an olympian isn't enough. If you’re number one in the world then you’re going to be an olympian (these are not the same) -10,000 ppl at the olympic games. only 250 gold medals! The process of being an olympian is key which makes the motivation part HUGE ---> constant struggle -Out of the struggle comes the theoretical process WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GET TO THE TOP? ambition-the unwillingness NOT to be good. Ambition is the DRIVER Intelligence/emotional control-you have to beat the game. Your horse has no idea so you have to be able to get them there and when the game changes, you need to be able to change technique-how it is received in an instinctual moment selection appropriate horses-they’re the athlete on the day. In training it’s 80% rider/20% horse....the opposite on competition day Horse Management/Time Management-have to be able to allot your time appropriately. Is Michael Jordan answering a phone call mid practice? Need to take a section of your day to be realistic and train for YOURSELF! This is respect! talent- the least important part. ***The Talent Code-Good book to READ!!!! (10,000 hours it takes to become successful) DO YOU “GET IT”? do you understand the sacrifice it takes to be the best? This game is about winning, being the best are you willing to invest everything you have in that process? In a quiet time in your season go back and re-assess....evaluation time TWO WORDS FOR IMPROVEMENT: 1.Awareness-awareness of the time and your weaknesses, the awareness of what’s happening to you at the moment. Do you notice what’s happening underneath you at the time?? Are you reacting to the thing that actually happened underneath you. a.Perceiving things as they actually are b.Self awareness is recognizing those internal factors that distort the ones own perception of reality 2.Responsibility- the correct action is taken in a moment. Has to be repeatable.The correct action to set up everything LEVELS OF LEARNING: (5 levels) Technique-legs, seat, hands, voice, opening reins, what are their actions? Very important a.use a video- watch yourself not your horse and others you want to emulate (chose someone that’s your body style)I should watch Sinead or KOC use of Dartfish Technology-sports analysis program (visual cue for technique) use of mirrors-make sure it’s specific use of coaches-another set of eyes on the ground. tell them what you need to work on use someone else’s video for imitation-watch other competitions use of visualization-the sports psychology part Theory-theory of exercises and the effects on horses the step by step process that leads to competitive excellence your position to communicate-your seat is by far the most important thing! appropriate exercises for the level of the horse use of aids-what are they, when do you use them? the indiv. control (core strength and core flexibility) timing of aids-has to be an intellectual thought process search the internet for all theoretical thought processes g. BOOKS: The Principles of Riding and Advanced Techniques of Dressage (have to get these books asap!!!!) Both from the German school of riding Instinct-the ability to react without thinking about it. Riding ends up being about instinct (this is the section that we have to fill) the ability to react properly without thinking about it technique must be perfect-what does Tiger Woods practice the most? The simplest technique so that it’s pure in competition you must let go of thinking about technique sport psychology-creates a trigger that gives you a mind set (What is my trigger that puts me into the mind frame that puts me back into the awareness?) Going into an environment that we don't get to practice so we need a trigger to lock out part of the world AFTER THESE THREE THINGS THIS IS WHERE THE AMATEURS DROP OFF Intuition/Philosophy a.what are your most basic beliefs that are unchangeable for you that drives how you train and compete your horses? (is it all about horses instinct? Communication? The more I have communication the less I say) This is where you become a student of the sport. This is your core being of being a horse person. Imagination not teachable- Can you see the “field” differently? Can you make inside turns and lines dependent upon the horse you’re on? the ability to process multiple inputs without thinking of them and setting up a plan instinctively (two sides to the equation. did you miss the moment? if not, did you get an answer?) confidence in technique and what you can do (nobody in this country that has THIS in all three phases) a mind set (not teachable)-you dont know what Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods was going to do when they were in their A game a study of preparing your body and mind... ***Where am I on this scale??? Then there’s a plan forward....have to accept where I am now (be honest) Use of Coaches: -to achieve your goals -to prefect technique -put into your words the theoretical process -step by step process of goal achievement -creating necessary tools -timing for tools for situations -assessment of horses (a horse that’s suitable for you) GOAL SETTING: -set both long and short term goals -look at small achievements on a daily basis, not at the total picture everyday. The pieces of the puzzle (steps in the corners, small goals) If you don’t decide that before, how are you going to judge whether you got there?! -over a day, week, month, year, multiple years. Dec. 6 2012 High Performance Meeting (Pm Session) The ROAD TO EXCELLENCE THEORY: How do we communicate to our horses? -position-make sure the ppl that you choose to help you understand that we are doing three phases. Make sure that when the specialist ppl are understanding more than life in a box (pure dressage is aggressively more forward. With jumpers, they can be more aggressive bc of the indoor aspects they were going through) -parts of the body (use of the weights and use of the hands) 1. below the knee-puts energy into the system 2. above the knee to ribcage-the whole thing is the seat (you can move this part without it effecting the rest of the parts) core strength and flexibility are vital 3. ribcage to top of head-turning and use of weight with your hands at the end (for turning, shoulder in, half pass etc) -the reward to the horse is the release of the pressure. the aspect of communicating with them is some form of putting on and taking off pressure which is why the use of the hands is an important part of the pitfalls you can find with training in yours. Are you overusing your hands or is your horse ignoring you? -dressage is supposed to be more and more subtle over time -if there’s movement all the time you end up making horse’s mouth’s hard. -the horses have to understand that GIVE (the soften when the horse chooses to do the thing you ask, when you soften they are willing to go back there again and again)Most important tool -Use of Legs---> dressage vs jumping -the ratio of your aids will change from dressage to show -the lower leg becomes more important higher the jumping and the less the seat is important and vice versa -Pressure and release of pressure: when I use this single aid, this is the single response I want. The idea of making it simple has to be very important to the trainer. Horses aren’t reasoning this out, this is up to the rider to solve. Timing is key in the release of the pressure. 5 PARTS OF THE TRAINING SCALE (this is what we get judged by in dressage) *rhythm-more about purity and rhythm of the gaits. The purity of gaits when you go to change something, does the horse lose its rhythm. Walk and canter is more prominent (stay away from a horse with a natural four-beat canter) *looseness/suppleness-how the horse is using his whole body. Lateral suppleness behind in the ability for them to cross and engage themselves is imperative Walk and trot are symmetrical...canter is not. Horses naturally bend to the outside so that they can give their inside hind leg more room to move so it doesn't have to bend so they can remain balanced. They use their head and neck as a counterbalance *contact/acceptance of aids-acceptance of the bit, if there’s a change, do they change? Contact is a big issue in this country. Quality of a still and a relaxed contacts is lacking *impulsion-willingness to go forward over their back with a looseness in their body. Is the horse taking you? “Out in front of the leg” There are different factors as you go forward. *Straightness-it’s about pushing off evenly in their step. The physicality of a horse, we are all stiff on one side or the other we have to be able to touch our toes so we don’t have tight hamstrings *collection- if you have all the previous things, then the collection comes. It’s given to you then but cannot be truly collected if lacking on any of the other steps. FRAMES -stretching:dressage gymnastics (the lowering of the neck NOT the closing of the angle) -helps to strengthen their back muscles (a long muscle that his skeleton hangs off of) ex. Rembrandt changed dressage, he was the first horse that exemplified lightness and softness not just power stuff. -harder for event horses in the canter. They need strength over their back, not FITNESS. -strength training we talk about reps, make sure the dressage training is similar -if not correct then we cause problems (lameness and mental) -if you give the reins forward and the horse doesn't follow you don't have them -show frame can be false -by switching back from the show and long and low frame it makes the horse better and gives the ability to relax them and works on their strengthening and hones the communication that you have between your horse -Definition of thoroughness: THE HALF HALT 1. Have to create the half halt: -different types based on the horse you’re riding -on the younger horse it’s to change the length of stride -in the end you have the rebalance -and to help increase cadence -body has to go first before the hands -by changing the tempo of your posting, the horse will soon change his tempo to your posting (haven’t used the hands) the lifting of the cadence -you have to create the tool 2.where do you use the half halt: LATERAL WORK leg yield-front leg and the hind leg cross, bend going away from the direction you travel. Suppleness exercise (it is the touching the toes exercise) not a weight carrying exercise, it increases engagement (4 tracks) shoulder in-hind legs don’t cross, the hips stay square to the line and bend still similar to the leg yield. This is a weight bearing exercise! (3 tracks) haunches in- can be on both 3 and 4 tracks (it can have more angle to show the difference in angle) Shoulder fore-inside front leg and inside hind leg on the same line, a slight flection. Takes the outside front leg in the middle of the tracks between the hind leg and less bend through the body Pirouette in walk-the inside hind leg steps up and down but stays in the same place. Practice 90 degrees walk out no longer so they don’t plant or get stuck (the turn on haunches allows inside hind leg to walk on a small one meter circle) Working pirouette-the haunches are on a 5/6 meter circle, bringing forehand back over the top of the inside hind leg. Bringing the front around in a haunches-in exercise really helps to teach them collection 90 degree turns are very important Dressage horses have more sustained elevation whereas the event horse have same collection just not as long of elevation. (big difference) Half Pass-haunches in on a diagonal bent towards direction they want to go -turn on the forehand is a good exercise about yielding from the leg. On a bigger circle, not in place EXERCISES -simple change through the trot (as horses go up the level this becomes a very very difficult exercise, huge exercise for looseness and letting go, needs to be more practiced) -simple change through the walk (3-5 steps) make sure the walk is established -flying changes (the position of the hindquarter is extremely important. inside hip to inside hip) -quality of aids that ends up becoming important through the levels (if youre losing the hind quarters in simple changes youll never be able to do it in the flying changes--> practice with tennis balls) -Halt (horses need to be more patient to stand there and not too rushed. Make sure they are comfortable....if they get nervous walk forward give them a place do it again and so on and so on) -Rein Back-halt, relax then rein back. They need to be separate in your mind. DOC doesn't want to see the rider’s leg go back. Use the reins alternating to control the front end -Always practice above the level in which you’re showing (4 star horses should be doing tempi changes, pirouettes) LENGTH OF STRIDES -gradual changes to immediate changes -pendulum of elasticity -working -shortening/lengthening -collection/medium -passage/extension ***make sure you work on both sides of the pendulum TEST RIDING -use of corners (thanks KIM!) 5 steps in the corner (the coiled feeling you have in the corner that the horses are READY) horses normally want to release the pressure by stepping on the outside in the corner (gets lost in the third step in the corner) which makes you come out of the corner RECOVERING the deeper in the corner the more advanced the horse is in his training watching the horses go down the centerline and turn to the corner they step out the three lines -use of the shoulder in -use of the haunches in -the use of shoulder fore -what do horses do naturally? Straightness issue. Must realize what they do naturally and the type of straightness you need and understanding where the hind legs actually ARE!!! DEFINITIONS -straightness -impulsion -engagement -cadence-lift in movement (has the ability strength wise to carry the weight) -western world wants an immediate reaction to the aid and we want to change the gaits JUMPING POSITIONS -three positions two point half seat full seat USE OF AIDS FOR JUMPING -more lower leg (thigh is no part of this except for creating structure of your position -use of weight through your own back (being able to use strength of your position instead of just your hands. Use back instead of hands) Event riders are more handsy than show jumpers bc they have far more strength in back and are more consistent (when you land from a jump are you rebalancing hands or landing with them on horse’s whither?) -important to keep hands as still as possible so the horse can pay attention to the rail WHAT DO YOU NEED TO JUMP A FENCE? -direction -speed -rhythm quality of canter (impulsion) -balance -timing (recognize the distance not LOOK) -the same thoroughness as dressage in their back so they can use themselves LINES IN SHOW JUMPING -straight related -bending -accuracy not only for a single fence but also how you jump into a line or combination (we have roll backs, straight lines, 6 stride, combination then another 6 stride....need to commit ourself into that line so we create a canter that produces a good shape) THIS IS IN EVERY COURSE! Just long enough distance to panic! Dec. 7 2012 High Performance Meeting The ROAD TO EXCELLENCE JUDGING EXCELLENCE:(expectations of selection and the process of selections) -the fight to beat the game is what determines who represents the USA in the Games, the Worlds and the Pan Ams. The FIGHT is important ***HOW DO YOU CHOOSE THOSE 5/6 PEOPLE? The Selection Committee Separation and independence- these ppl are judges The selectors will not be the primary source of information-DOC will be the primary source! The selectors have to be independent so they can judge us fairly 4-5 selectors, plus 4-5 scouts (they’ve had a direct appt onto that committee) Veterinarians Create a vet team-more of a team that can go with us on indiv trips No evaluations after CCIs in 2013- the evaluations will not be during training sessions so that it’s more preventive Evaluations during training sessions Evaluations before public money spent on you Vet team and DOC will be in barns ALOT at competitions Transparency has to work both ways (ex. movie GI Jane--> “Are you hurt or are you injured?” GET USED TO THIS PHRASE) If there is a horse that’s hurt, we can do something about it whereas if he’s injured we need to come up with a plan to get him better . We have to make sure that our score will BENEFIT the USA. Trust is key! Trust takes a long time to build but about 30 seconds to kill Farriers Steve to head the farrier team although he won’t have to be the one that has to tack the shoe on Several farriers for trips (similar to vets) No one is going to give up their practice all the time to do as many trips as we are talking about so have to split it up and increase the team player SELECTION TIMELINE: -Application deadline for trips up to July 1 will be March 15 (these are soft numbers) Decisions will be made IMMEDIATELY AFTER deadline!!! Want it to be early enough so that you can plan and you have the chance to raise money (the grants will be $20,000 so will pay for horse flights and our own and that’s it.) -Application deadline for events July 1-Nov 1 will be July 1 -2013: as above -2014: For WEG decisions by July 1 (make the team earlier to build camaraderie and increase team morale) -2015: for Pan Am Games decisions by June 15 -2016: for Olympic Games decisions by June 15 (we aren't going to wait until the entry deadline to name the team anymore) SELECTION PROCESS: -Naming the team earlier -Subjective decision by selectors to remove someone from the squad for reasons other than soundness (human nature warning: happens to a lot with first timers) loss of form (are you prepared?) Not preparing horse to necessity (most likely at that time you’re not going to agree with it) Code of conduct (Olympic fever is a TRUE disease) If the system is challenged, then it will revert back to the older system of last minute selections (there’s some duplicity here) An intellectual and emotional change FIRST TIME THIS HAS BEEN DONE EXPECTATION: (THIS IS THE FIRST GOAL) a. Better than 70% for dressage (this is a 7) WE WANT TO START HERE! This is your body of work (national horse trials: around a 30 international horse trials: around a 45) So when you come out of a test on your training horse, was this test around a 70%? If this horse is with you over 4 months, then you should be getting AT LEAST a 70% in your body of work at EVERY LEVEL! Would this have benefitted the USA? Put the pressure on yourself because we are an island. We are competing against ourselves and we can get comfortable. DOC isn’t just interested that we win, but he wants us to be winning well!!!! XC-the ability to quick and clean in any situation (within ten seconds) You’ll have to tell DOC how fast you’re going to go before you leave start box so we can judge ourselves in proximity to our expectations. When you’ve made the decision, you have the ability to go quick and clean SJ-the ability to jump clean in many situations, horse’s comfort level, surfaces and weather (never more than one rail)DO YOU HAVE A BIG DAY TEMPERAMENT? SELECTION SYSTEM: (what are the subjective elements? Need a quantitative number to a subjective decision) -mix of objective and subjective criteria -can we have a sub number for sub criteria? -can we create a guide to make this decision? OBJECTIVE CRITERIA: -dressage score as a percentage (ie. 7.5) -XC score 1-10 -10 points for a clear round -2 points off for each stop -0 points for DNF -1 point off for every ten seconds below fastest time of day -as a whole the XC could get to 15 -SJ score 1-10 -2 points off for 1 rail -3 points off for 2nd rail -4 points off for 3rd rail SOUNDNESS: -1-10 ten being totally sound -Decided by veterinary panel including treating vet SUBJECTIVE CRITERIA: (Done as a combination of one horse and rider and only INTERNATIONAL HT not NATIONAL) -Character: does this rider have a positive or negative effect in a team environment? (1-5) how do you handle stress? travel? How do you handle not being the primary individual anymore? -WIll and Ability to win. BIG DAY TEMPERAMENT (1-5) -Experience in CCIs and teams (1-5) -Type of combination for planned event (1-5) -Rider instinct/technique (1-3) -Rider fitness.....our own soundness (1-3) -going to try to have fitness evals 5-6 times per year (injury prevention) -four star xc results will have objective criteria and soundness multiplied by 1.5 -for 4 star: 70% obj. 30% sub. -for 3 star: 60% obj., 40% sub -CIC system -CCI*** system -CCI**** system -Used as a guide for selection decisions. -Information could be given to rider and to owners (want to be able to hand it back to you) -Not the actual final selection process however

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Post by Sally Spickard

The Competitive Advantage I am a self-professed sore loser. Ask anyone who knows me what happens when I lose a sand volleyball (recreational, at that) game or an argument over my favorite baseball player. To me, the game of life is a competitive one. I have always believed that a sense of competition is directly related to your success at any endeavor you may attempt. This belief has never be more applicable than with my chosen sport of eventing. Now, do not mistake my competitive nature for a lack of compassion and sportsmanship. I may be a sore loser, but I will never blame my horse or anyone other than myself for finishing in a less than satisfactory standing. Eventing is the most adrenaline charged sport that I have ever experienced, and I have only competed through Novice! I have often wondered what the competitive drive is like at the top echelon of the sport so, in order to gain some perspective, I caught up with four star rider Laine Ashker, who was kind enough to give me a few moments of her time while I picked her brain and attempted to channel her competitive drive from 800 miles away. I have always looked up to athletes who are openly competitive. In my aspirations to reach the top level of the sport, I have followed many riders’ careers closely, and Laine is no exception. However, the blatant dedication and passion that she has for the sport and her horses is crystal clear, and reading just a few of her competition blog entries will give anyone insight into just how competitive this girl is! One of my first questions to her was in relation to her competitive nature: Sally: Have you always had the competitive drive that you have now? Laine: Yes, I am a very bad sore loser! I’ve gotten better, but I always blame myself – it’s not about making excuses, it’s more of a self-defeating thing. Everything I do is a competition. I’m not a person who goes to even the bowling alley just to have fun! Being competitive is one thing that kept me alive after my accident. I didn’t go home with my tail between my legs… well, initially I did, but my competitive nature took over and said “learn from it!” A year later, I was back competing at Jersey Fresh at the three-star level with Al [Anthony Patch]. As a testament to Laine’s competitive nature, she told me a story about some advice that Buck Davidson gave her prior to a competition. Knowing that her mind could sometimes get in her way, he told her to “just shoot for last place” at Jersey Fresh that year. His logic was that she was so competitive that by telling her to go for last place it might take off some of the pressure that she inevitably put on herself. And his advice worked! That year, Laine placed 6th in the CCI***. I also asked Laine who her idols were growing up, and she was quick to name Karen O’Connor: Sally: Who was your equestrian idol growing up? Laine: My mom went to the 1996 Olympics and brought back a poster that was signed by Karen O’Connor. I hung it on my ceiling so that I fell asleep looking at it and woke up looking at it, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Karen’s kind of been it for me, and even more so today because she is still out there kicking our butts! I’ve always been a fan of hers just for the sheer competitive nature that she has. Boyd [Martin] is another person that I look up to because he’s such a good sport. And Buck [Davidson] is another one – Buck can ride a broomstick! [EDIT: Buck, if you read this, I would be very interested to see you do this!] After a few laughs and a lot of fantastic answers to my questions, I asked Laine to gossip a bit about Al, her current four-star mount. She immediately laughed and informed me that when she travels to big competitions, her other horses don’t go. Al is somewhat of a clingy type, and attaches himself very quickly to other horses, so the theory is that when he is a bit down and friend-less at shows, he focuses on Laine more, thus creating a better result in competition. She also told me that for being the spookiest horse when she is on him, she still finds that he enjoys having his head brushed by a broom and his back scratched with a pitchfork, which, in my experience, are two of the most frightening inventions for horses – go figure! Lastly, I asked Laine for advice for aspiring upper level riders, and as much as I want to just keep it to myself (see, that’s my competitive nature coming out!), I will share it with you! Sally: Any advice for the aspiring upper level riders out there? Laine: Don’t let anyone tell you [that] you can’t do it. Also, go to college. I’m so happy to have had that sort of cultural advancement to be able to look beyond the spectrum of horses and see the outside world for what it is. Otherwise you have nothing to base yourself on besides horses. It’s so easy to get caught up in this lifestyle, which can be a selfish one. It can be done, you don’t need a big paycheck to do it. As long as you have a good coach to help you out, it can be done. Follow your dreams, as cliché as it sounds! My conversation with Laine further solidified my theory that being part adrenaline junkie and part sore loser can make a pretty solid event rider! It is the humbling moments in this sport that make us realize how much progress we still have to make and what makes us keep reaching for our highest goals. The hunger and passion for the sport is what I admire the most about event riders. For Laine, her goals will constantly be growing as she continues to work for every milestone. At the same time, she is very humble and down to earth about what she has chosen as her path in life: “Have I achieved all of my dreams? No. But I am living my dream.”

Just Falling Short

It’s been ages since I have last checked in so allow me to be brief when recounting the events from Rolex up until now. Please pardon my lack of emotion and brevity in dealing with the matters as I have had ample time to stew and delineate the experience as a whole and am quite frankly, over it. Rolex was an utter disappointment, there’s no better way to word it. Al was ready, I was ready...our fate, however was not. Jersey Fresh proved to be a half-hearted redemption for Alex and I. Although dressage and cross country were superb, I had a “crack artist” moment in the show jumping phase allowing my nerves to get to me and falling short of the clear round that Al and I constantly deliver. It just goes to show you how difficult our sport is to master, if “mastering” in that sense is even achievable. On a brighter note, I was beyond thrilled to receive the coveted Jockey Club TIP award for the highest placed OTTB and will proudly bestow my cooler to anyone who is interested. What a great program that highlights and promotes the breed and the industry on which our country is built. Obviously my dream of olympic stardom was squelched the second my air vest deployed at Rolex. However I am very happy for those who did make the team and I can understand the sheer dedication it took for them to achieve the olympic dream...and the painful disappointment of those who just fell short. Alex was given a light vacation and I was able to spend time teaching, clinic-ing and working on my other up and coming mounts who had been neglected the month prior due to my olympic preparations with Rolex and Jersey Fresh. I am excited to have a real formidable string of talented young OTTBs in my arsenal from The Big Island to Road Star in addition to my eager three-year old homebred by Comet Shine, Calling All Comets amongst other OTTBs my mother has up her sleeve. Although the whole idea of fundraising for Burghley seems a little far-fetched at the moment, I have decided to continue to push forward with plans to head to the infamous venue. Why not? I can say with utmost confidence that I am sitting on a horse that could quite possibly upset the grand scheme of things in the land of British Eventing so why not go for the gusto? I guess I had better start crunching some numbers! In the meantime I have been busily trying to catch up on sleep due to my increasingly hectic work and horse show schedule. Adding Cross-fit classes to the mix just seems to make it all the easier as I very eagerly melt into bed come nightfall. I am very pleased to announce two new sponsorships that I have acquired to my team: Nutrena and La Mundial boots. Although one focuses on the horse’s well-being and the other is more attuned to my equestrian fashion sense, both are extremely vital components to my horses’ and my success in the event world and I am beyond ecstatic to join their teams. As mid July is upon us I have increasingly become aware of the Olympic Games that loom ahead and I cannot begin to express my kudos and excitement for those representing our country both on and off the horse! Aside from the eventing, you can bet I will be tuned into NBC to watch Michael Phelps set yet another world record and add even more gold medals to his “super human” repertoire. Until next time folks, sit back, relax and hoist up the American flag...it’s times like these sharing it with the people we love the most that make me proud to be an American! Go Yankees!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bubble wrap and Subway: The Countdown to Rolex begins!




They say time flies when you’re having fun.....or when you’re preparing for a spring four star. Truth be told, the three and a half months leading up to next week’s championship have gone by so quickly, I haven’t yet been able to sit down, relax and take it all in....until now.

Oh yes, the dreaded “week before Kentucky” has now happened upon us. During this week, horses preparing for the big event love to throw a shoe, get cast in a stall, maybe pull back in the cross ties and take a tour of the farm, and come up with many other ways to give their riders, owners, grooms and supporters mild heart attacks.

Additionally during this week, the riders of these fragile beasts hone in on their technique, their physique and their mental prowess. Some of the riders will do this by taking a few intense lessons for tune up so that they peak at the right time. Some might run vigorously on the treadmill hoping to lose a quick five pounds. Others might take to a Subway diet to watch their calories (or maybe he or she has simply run out of money at this point). Or some, very few, disciplined (or perhaps desperate) individuals may engage in all the above.

The underlying point I am trying to stress here is that the week before Rolex is the LONGEST week of them all. It makes riders question their preparedness, their fitness, the horse’s fitness, their mental fortitude, and leaves them baffled as to where all the time has gone? “Man I just KNEW I shouldn't have wasted time on practicing shoulder-ins in February when I could have been working on walk pirouettes” (Yup, we hear that all the time). But what has been done has been done and we must all as riders rest assured that the hard work leading up to Kentucky has a way of presenting itself come the final show jumping round next Sunday.

Honestly I have been quite happy with Al’s and my schedule leading up to Rolex. I have done more with him than usual by way of horse shows (did one prelim, one intermediate, and two advanced) in order to regain any fitness that was lost due to the long vacation he had last year. His dressage is improving steadily, thanks to constant badgering from Kim. At Southern Pines I was happy with his performance although it lacked luster due to way too long a warm-up but still earned a solid score of 29. At the Fork doing a test similar to the one we will be performing next weekend, I was able to create a little more spark in his collection and ride for the bigger scores, although we had a few large mistakes but still earned a mark of 28. At this point we are just putting on the polish so that we are shiny and sparkly (Al loves sparkles just as much as his mother) come Thursday of next week! Speaking of sparkles, Al and I are very excited to be taking part in a clinic with the ever-bedazzled Bettina Hoy which I am hoping will be the final touch needed to break into the forties at Rolex, a realistic goal I think.

In the jumping phases Al has been his normal freakish self, soaring to sky-high measures just for the heck of it leaving his rider awe-struck every time we finish a course. However, being that I have been working alone in Aiken in the jumping I [rather brilliantly] decided to make a “pilgrimage” (and yes I use this term very earnestly) to Ocala after the Fork to visit my long-time coach, friend, mentor and the-brother-I-never-had, Buck Davidson. It’s been over nine years since I had my first lesson with Buck. Since then he has seen me go from a young girl eagerly hoping to make it to the top of the sport aboard her Trans-Amaflirt look-a-like Eight Saint James Place, to a young professional maturing and settling into the four star level. There is no one (aside from my mother of course) who I would rather have coach me in the nerve-racking two weeks preceding Kentucky. It literally took Buck five minutes in the show jumping warm up at the Fork to fix my leaning through my turns which then earned Al and I a clear round. This is why I will always emphasize the power of having a long-standing and honest relationship with your coach. It’s great to clinic with other instructors but all of the information is deemed useless if you don’t have one specific person with whom you can channel it.

Speaking of mentors, I’d like to express my deepest sympathies to the family, friends, supporters and pets of the late and great Amy Tryon. I had the pleasure of knowing Amy and riding alongside her at many a competition. Not only was she an amazing horsewoman, but Amy was also an avid firefighter who demonstrated to aspiring athletes such a myself that horses and a day job can work together cohesively. I respect her so much for staying true to herself, her job and her family and I am utterly devastated for them, for horse community, and for humanity as a whole to have lost such a beautiful person, on the inside and out. Her presence at Rolex will be whole-heartedly missed, and to honor Amy I plan on affixing a hunter green ribbon (her xc colors) to my riding coats and cross country saddle pad. I encourage and invite you all to do so as well whether you’re spectating at home or in the stands.

And so the countdown begins my friends. Each day that passes brings us one step closer to realizing our dreams, and that goes for everyone reading this blog. Could this year be the one, or just another stepping stone toward achieving greatness? We only have seven days to wait and find out....stay tuned. Until then folks sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. See you in Kentucky!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Long Live the Underdog!






The road to the top is an adventurous one, albeit bumpy at times. Since relocating my whole life temporarily down to Aiken in early January, the path to world domination has been just about as smooth as the wavy sand roads on which I do my trot sets. I have been blessed to have met people like Randy, Vicky and Helen Knight, who own the farm where my horses and myself currently reside and who are gracious sponsors that have helped to smooth out the rough edges of my sometimes perilous journey. It is with their help and support, and of course their spacious farm that I am able to spread my wings and strive towards the goals that once seemed so far fetched.

Since I arrived in Aiken, I am happy to report that my schedule has been jam packed. I am literally in the saddle by eight o’clock in the morning and don’t finish riding until the late afternoon hours. Top that with cleaning stalls, feeding horses, turning out, bringing in, sweeping the endless barn aisle and cleaning tack, well folks, let’s just say I could probably make some serious dough creating a work out video based on barn chores alone! Who needs Tough Mudders when you’ve got Tough Muckers? You get the gist...and I digress.

Speaking of working out, I must admit that my strict running and kickboxing and pole dancing regimen has taken a nose dive due to lack of time. My goal for March and the remainder of the time leading up to Rolex will be to a lot more time and focus on my own health and fitness. Sure, riding nine horses a day may seem like a lot but when you spend nearly forty two plus hours per week in a saddle, it just ain’t cutting it.

Speaking of cutting, I had the pleasure of participating in the Ocala Make-A-Wish Charity ride for the third year in a row. My long-time partner and co-2011 Champion, Joe Harper once again pulled out all the stops (no pun intended) and brought me two VERY capable horses to try out and decide which one suited me best. After going through the dry work and chasing a couple cows down the fence, Joe made the executive decision that my best work would be done on Mongo, a horse who he won over $10,000 on in 2011 and is owned by Chris Brown (NOT the R&B artist/Rihanna’s notorious of and on ex). Following my lessons with Joe, it was my turn to divvy out the criticism. We made our way to Aaron Vale’s (who graciously offered his horses to use for the jumping phase of the event) and I yelled at, ahem, coached Joe through some rigorously twisty courses so he would be prepared for that evening’s festivities.

When it was all said and done, Joe and I sadly finished second, just one point behind Aaron Vale. Although Mongo and I squashed the competition in our dry work, our cow was not as enthusiastic about running down the fence and opted to go THROUGH us a few times in the wet work. Finishing so close behind the leader just made us thirst for the win even more so you better believe that Joe and I will be back next year to reclaim the title that we should have won for the third time in a row!

The show season down here in Aiken has been both hectic and exciting! First and foremost I have to thank my wonder groom Charisse Gamble who is not only new to Aiken, but also to the event world in itself. How her brain didn’t explode after Bronwyn and I listed off all her chores and duties on her first day of work I will never know! But she has stepped up to the plate and made my life practically a cake walk with her unyielding work ethic and uncanny ability to catch on so quickly!

Probably my most exciting piece of recent news is that my long time partner and Olympic hopeful Alex is back in action. Being that he had such a long vacation last year, Buck and I opted to start him back at prelim and ease him back into top level work so as to avoid any major injury from coming on too strong. I used the prelim at Full Gallop as a cross country school since Al hadn't seen a solid jump literally since Kentucky and aside from the random spook as some brightly dressed jump judges, we crossed the finish lines beaming from ear to ear!

Al’s most recent outing was at Pine Top where I entered him in the Intermediate class. Now I have to remind myself that last year after having him panic at the beginning of the cross country course at Pine Top due to the smell of cattle, I promised him that I wouldn’t subject him to that fear any further. But try as I might, Pine Top just fit in his fitness schedule so superbly so I figured, what the heck, why not just have a easy breezy school, at Pine Top...in a cow field. Silly me! Al would have been hard to beat in the dressage had it not been for the COW turned out in the pasture right next to his ring! It was all I could do to navigate him through the movements and stay INSIDE the ring but as soon as that last halt and salute was performed, I SWORE to myself that I would never put Al in a position to lose ever again. Having said that, I couldn't have been happier with his performances over the weekend. We had an unfortunate rail due to piloting error where I overshot a turn in the show jumping and Al jumped so high that his left foot actually touched the top of the standard therefore bringing down a rail! He was solid on the cross country despite a few too many tugs on my part into the first water but aside knocking off the rust, my little brown wonder pony is back and in full swing! Next stop for him will be in Southern Pines over the Advanced track! I had better pack my ear plugs for the “air” I anticipate getting on that track!

On a sadder note, not all of us were able to come away from Pine Top with smiles and grins all around. My deepest sympathies and condolences go out to Megan Moore and her family for losing her mount Grasshopper on the advanced level cross country. Having lost one too many near and dear to my heart, I can attest to the emotional toil that Megan must be enduring and this is just one more reason to stop everything you’re doing at this very moment, and go hug your pony. Probably some of the best advice was administered to me from my mother in the late spring of 2008 when she told me to seek solace in my other horses who were very much alive and yearned for my attention around the barn. They are, and will always be what continue to drive and motivate me from here on out.

I am very fortunate this year to have many horses under my tutelage who are all challenging and rewarding in their own way. One of my most exciting mounts, however, is a brand new ride for me and who I think will soon set the event world ablaze. I began teaching Road Star with his previous owner Amanda Blazkowski over a year ago in northern California. The very day I set eyes on the lanky bay gelding I could not help but ogle at his uncanny resemblance to my legendary mount Eight Saint James Place. Being that “Roadie” is not the easiest of horses to train, due to his limitless scope, buoyant trot, hot-under-the-collar personality and ability to go on daily hunger strikes, Amanda and I decided that it was in the horse’s best interest to come out east and compete under my string of eventers. Thus, the Road Star Syndicate has been formed! Lucky me! Make sure to keep an eye out for this one on the international event scene in a couple years folks, don’t let his somewhat gaunt appearance fool you! Many thanks to Amanda and her mother Val for believing in my training methods, my goals, and my ability as a horseman. And thank you to my dear mother for traversing the northern California country side helping to create yet another Crow’s Ear Champion.

Before I bid you adieu for the evening I will leave you all with one piece of breaking news. Now, anyone who knows me also knows that I much prefer birds and horses over dogs and cats. In the past, my tolerance level for disobedient canines is about as abundant as Roadie’s appetite. However, I can attest that today I am a changed woman, all thanks to my new pup, Isis.

On February 27, while driving back from Aiken to the barn, I noticed an emaciated tan colored dog timidly scampering down the side of highway 19. I drove past it, listening to my music and enjoying the breeze when all of a sudden my conscience chimed in. I immediately did an illegal U turn (shhhhh), and yet another illegal U turn and parked my car on the side of the highway in hopes of somehow luring this poor wretched creature into my two seater convertible with no food or harness. I was surprised at the fact that when I called to her (now noticing the bountiful of milk she was carrying in her breasts) that she didn’t immediately shy away and make a bee line for the neighboring field. Instead, she studied me rather intently, walked up to me, saw that I didn't have any food, and laid down wholeheartedly exhausted and expired of energy. I immediately phoned Charisse who very kindly found some dog food and brought it to me to feed the starving dog. After a few minutes of sniffing and becoming acquainted, the dog began to feverishly eat the kibble and Charisse was able to get a makeshift leash around her neck. Simultaneously, the animal patrolman pulled over after getting a few calls about some weird lady “dog whispering” to a distressed animal on the side of highway 19. In fact, he commended both Charisse and I for being able to catch the dog that they have been trying to pin down for over two weeks!

Seeing that the dog was clearly nursing puppies, the three of us tried to encourage her to lead us to them but to no avail, she was simply just too scared. He promised to look for the pups later that evening and I promised from that day forward to look after their mother. On the way back to the barn I began thinking about the irony in the whole situation. I was in a quandary as to what to do regarding the puppies as it was beginning to get dark and I wanted to allow the dog to settle and trust me. I couldn't shake the feeling that this dog had somehow come into my life at the perfect time and place, and how the circumstance was somewhat magical. Being that she clearly was well endowed with milk despite her hideous condition and that she trusted me enough to not run away in addition to the fact that I have always been a fan of Greek mythology, I decided to name the dog Isis, after the goddess of fertility, motherhood, and magic. How fitting.

I tossed and turned all night. I couldn't help but think about the puppies and where they might be and how they are dealing without their mom. Before sunrise I sprang to my feet, rallied the help of Randy and Vicki and gathered Isis into the car and returned to the place I found her. I attached the leash to her collar when we arrived and not two seconds later did that girl have her nose to the ground perusing the new environment. I followed her for over a mile, through woods, backyards, across the highway and down a sand road. We shuffled through prickly vines, made our way through trash and broken glass until we happened upon an abandoned car. I knew we had made it when Isis’ tail began to wag and she let out a whimper. In the blink of an eye eight puppies appeared from underneath the abandoned vehicle, all trembling with excitement to see their long- lost mother. I couldn't help but see the sense of relief in Isis’ solemn eyes as she peered up at me with eight yelping puppies affixed to her teats and said, “Thank you.”

It is today that I have become a changed woman. I placed all my faith in this dog to lead me to her pups and just as I was beginning to doubt their whereabouts, Isis never lost the faith in herself, or her puppies. This dog has become so much more than just a companion to me. From this very moment on, Isis and I will be inseparable. It is our symbiotic relationship that will stand the tests of time, for I need her just as much as she needed me. I am beyond thrilled to have this new addition to Laine Ashker Eventing and I hope by the time late April comes around, I will have her looking in mint condition for all of you to see.

So, until next time folks, heels down, shoulders back and NEVER EVER underestimate the underdog! Cheers!