Thursday, March 20, 2008

Praying for Darren, Missy, and Jen and John

They say time flies when you’re having fun. For the most part, that saying couldn’t be more true when it comes to the space between all of these Rolex installments. When I last wrote, Frodo was preparing to show at Rocking Horse in the Intermediate division. He started off the show well, winning the dressage with a solid score of 27.0 and finished with the lowest score to win the division. As expected, another perilous storm swept through Altoona, Florida over Rocking Horse weekend, causing torrential down pours and disastrous winds for show jumping day. As I was trying to make out what Buck was saying to me before I entered the ring, along with just trying to see my practice fence, I came to the conclusion that if Frodo could jump clear in these conditions, he sure could jump clear in the beautifully manicured Rolex ring. And jump clear he did!
Because Frodo’s performance was so sensational at Rocking Horse, I was overly excited for the arrival of the next Winter Training Session and my favorite event (aside from Rolex), Red Hills. What made the Winter Training session so interesting is that every one of us had the opportunity to meet with the USOC staff. Because I am a believer in sports psychology, my first appointment was with Suzie, the US Sports Psychologist. We discussed different aspects of the events, what types of scenarios made me nervous, what types made me calm and what exercises to do to create that tranquility. The next session I had was more physical. I met with Zach, the USOC fitness instructor. As event riders, we tend to only ride horses and think that is enough to keep us fit and trim. Oh contraire! With Zach, we discussed my problem areas and went over different fitness moves to help tone and build muscle which certainly made me break a sweat. Lastly, but certainly not least I met with Karen, the USOC nutritionist. I cannot tell you how much meeting with her was beneficial to me! Because I usually have multiple horses at events, I find it hard to stop and take time to eat, especially on cross country day! With Karen, we pondered ways of providing my body with the nutrition and energy it needs, without making me feel full. Along with two amazing dressage lessons from Mark, and having it all filmed by the USOC crew, meeting with Suzie, Zach, and Karen was extremely informative and helpful to Frodo’s and my path down winding road to the Olympic Games.
Next up was Red Hills. After meeting with my coach Buck Davidson, we both decided it was best to move Frodo into the CIC*** World Cup class so that he could compete with the “big boys” so to speak. I also had three other horses competing at Red Hills: My young up and coming horse, Anthony Patch was doing his first CIC*** and my other upper-level horse, Mazetto, owned by Christine Brennan and Carousel Farm was in the Advanced class. I was also excited to have my homebred six year old, Seajack compete in the extremely competitive preliminary class.
Before Bronwyn and I left for Red Hills, we were pleasantly surprised to find goodies in the mail from some of my generous sponsors. My newest sponsor, Heritage Gloves, sent me many types and colors of gloves to use both inside and out of the competition ring. You can go to their website to check out their wide array of gloves at Also, I was happy to receive more sheepskin comfort half pads from my first and most munificent sponsors at Thinline ( ). Additionally, Jim Chiapetta from Flair Strips ( sent me more equine nasal flairs to use on cross country and show jumping which is extremely beneficial to each of my horses’ performances.
After receiving all of these helpful items, Bronwyn and I were more than eager to make the three hour trip to Tallahassee in anticipation of the exciting horse trials at Red Hills. We had to arrive early because of Frodo’s demanding schedule of the Winter Training Sessions. After a few days of dressage with Mark, Frodo and I were poised to cause a stir in the dressage standings. However, this was not so. Perhaps it was because it was my horse’s first show away from home, but for some reason all of them, especially my most seasoned mount, Frodo Baggins, seemed to have an unlimited amount of energy and nerves. These two ingredients never mix well in the dressage ring so needless to say I was quite disappointed with Frodo’s test. However, I knew that I would need that excess energy for the demanding cross country course that was to come next. Every year Red Hills proves to be a Championship course at all levels, and this year, Captain Mark Phillips made sure this was no exception. However, my horses proved to be more than ready for the questions the course presented. Frodo, as always, was a rock star and galloped around the course like the seasoned champion he is. I was so thrilled to ride him once again across country, because he one of the most maneuverable and fast horses I have ever had the chance to sit on. I was also elated with his fitness level in the heat, which means that once again, Buck’s fitness regimen is spot on. My other mounts went phenomenally as well. Anthony Patch (Alex) went around his first three star course very positively only to find out that we were eliminated because of my misunderstanding of an option at the end of the course. Nevertheless, we completed the course, ears pricked and all. My young horse, Seajack, galloped around the prelim course with ease. My final ride of the day, Mazetto showed his vast experience as he cantered around the Advanced course making it seem rudimentary. Needless to say, all of my horses were stars. The final show jumping day went equally as well, with Frodo finishing 6th in the CIC*** World Cup class, Mazetto 3rd in the Advanced division, and Seajack 8th in the prelim. Although I would have liked to take home the Mercedes Benz, I was happy to see my fellow Winter Training Session comrade, Clark Montgomery and his mount, Up Spirit take home the prize.
However, a dark cloud loomed over Red Hills weekend with the loss of two amazing horses, Direct Merger and Leprechaun’s Rowdy Boy in addition to a horrific accident involving Olympian and well respected rider, Darren Chiacchia. As a fellow competitor, my heart goes out to Missy and John and Jen for their losses as it is such a heart break to lose something so close to you. As for Darren and his family, both will constantly be in my thoughts, hopes, and prayers for a speedy recovery. Darren is not only an remarkable athlete, but has been a great friend and mentor to me, and was exceedingly supportive when I lost my long time equine partner, Eight Saint James Place. I truly believe that Darren’s strength and courage will carry him through and bring him back to the sport he loves the most.
I will be in touch next month. In the meantime, I am headed home to teach a clinic in Virginia, headed to Poplar Place and the Fork, and keeping my horses and myself fit and healthy for their upcoming event schedule. Until next time, chin up, sit back, and kick on!

Lainey Ashker