Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Sudden End to a Bright Future





While I am fully aware that it has been nearly two months since my last post, I needed some time to pass in order to reflect on recent happenings that have seriously had altering effects on my life.

With that in mind, I would like to provide my readers with a casual disclaimer: Yes, I graduated from UVa. Yes, I speak multiple languages. And yes, I am an avid writer that enjoys keeping my friends, fans, students, and fellow horse enthusiasts updated with my eventing life. However, I was never an English major in college, nor do I dare boast about having the perfect grammar in my blog posts. I simply write from the heart, and after all, isn’ t that why you read these blogs in the first place, in order to get a real sense of the lifestyle of being an international event rider? Would you prefer a grammatically perfect blog with zero emotion or one that’s from the heart, that’s honest, and most important, recent? So, if you are truly offended by my rudimentary grammar and idiotic punctuation mistakes, then I kindly ask you to quit reading my blog, and move on with your life. If however, you want a REAL account of someone who is out there striving to achieve a life-long dream, then please proceed with caution.

Now, where was I? Back to recent life altering events.

Probably the most influential and riveting event has been the death of my dear friend and eventing comrade, Colin Davidson. Now I will never lay claim to being BFFs with Colin but shared a laugh (and a tiff) or two, and an overwhelming passion for those four-legged creatures. Colin should and will be remembered for the kind, loving soul he was. He could always be found petting Drake (his four star horse, Draco) after a good effort across country, grazing one of his horses reflecting on the day he just experienced at a horse trials, or walking the course playing with his little rambunctious dog, Badger. I am always drawn to a memory that Colin and I shared this year at the Fork CIC*** in April. Both he and I were hosing our horses off at the communal wash rack and asking how each other's show jumping round went, especially as it was the last effort before the big four star that loomed ahead. After bantering on and on about how I wish I had ridden some random turn better but thank goodness Al was his normal phenom-self and jumped a double clear, I stopped myself in mid-sentence when Colin’s gaze seemed to grow increasingly melancholy. When I asked him how his round panned out, he stopped scrubbing Draco’s legs with soap, looked at me, then began to laugh hysterically. Before I came to the conclusion that he was “off of his rocker” he told me how he had made a wrong turn in the course and ended up jumping the triple combination backwards; in the three star; and CLEANLY! I laughed so hard I spooked both of our horses which ultimately brought both of us both back to reality. We then joked how Drake was ready for Kentucky as he was able to jump a three star level triple combination backwards leaving all the rails in tact, which takes loads of talent, I might add!

I am so thankful that I was able to spend the night with Colin in the hospital. I was able to reassure him that his horses were well looked after and just how much of an impact he has made on so many people’s lives. I reminded him how proud I was to see him canter down the center line at Rolex and own that dressage test. I promised him that he would not be left alone, nor would he ever be forgotten, and that his loving girlfriend Mackenzie Booth was frantically on her way to his bedside from Pennsylvania. I simply was THERE, sitting by his side, holding his hand and rubbing his arm...speechless.

However, after seeing the horrific spectacle that lay in front of me decorated with countless tubes and IVs, I experienced the obvious flashback of a catastrophic accident that happened to me two years back, and was finally able to feel the undulating emotions that my parents had felt back in the UK hospital room. I am saddened for Colin’s mom, Lucy; for no parent should EVER have to bury their child. RIP Colin Baird Davidson. Please tell my boys Jamie, Fro-Fro, and Peewee that I love them indefinitely and keep them in my heart, on my wrists and in my medical armband when I ride.

On a lighter note, Al and I were pleased to make the Winter Training List Squad B. Although it has been overshadowed by my attention lying with the friends and family of Colin, I am very proud and honored to have my name posted in the same realm of legendary riders such as Karen O’Connor, Phillip Dutton, Buck and Boyd. Some up-and-coming riders such as Jennie Brannigan and Alexandria Slusher are stars for the future and I expect these guys and gals to bring forth their “A” game next year, simultaneously encouraging mine to follow suit as well. It has been three years since I was last named to the Winter Training Squad B. I remember pondering, as I was in the final days of my month-long stay at the UK hospital, if I would make it back to where I was before and what would it feel like if I had? Well folks, thanks to my trusty steeds, my relentlessly proud mother, my faithful groom and friend Bronwyn, WE have arrived back and boy does victory taste sweet! Although I can’t promise that I will bring home a gold medal at the first Olympics that I hope to compete, I can avow that my efforts will be ceaseless and glory unrestrained. I have trudged to the depths of hell and I will never ever digress back to that dark, dark state I loomed in before.

Al and I are also fortunate enough to have received a training grant, which we hope to take full advantage of in the winter and spring seasons with some informative jumping and dressage lessons from world-renowned instructors and clinicians. We all know that I am no stranger to criticism so please, if it makes me a better rider in the long run, FIRE AWAY Mrs. Prudant!

Until next time, chin up, shoulders back, and grab some mane! See you in the start box down south! Happy Holidays and have a safe and memorable (or maybe not for some of you) New Year’s! Welcome, 2011!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bad Luck Comes in Three’s




Due to my overwhelmingly competitive nature, this will be by far one of the most difficult and necessary blog posts that I have written. The matter of the fact is that this sport is hard. Hard on it’s riders, equally as hard on our horses (not to mention our wallets). My decision to pull Al from Pau was a tortuous one, as I was in a tug-of-war between my heart and my logic.

The road up to Pau was seemingly an easy one up until last Sunday, when I took Al to the local jumper show. Thus, the “week from hell” began. The day after he won his class, I jogged him up and lunged him and noticed a slight hitch in his step, something that I am not accustomed to seeing on such a solid, sound horse. Immediately, I called my local vet and friend, Tom Newton, who sped over to my barn, and after watching Alex trot up decided that it would be in Al’s and my best interest to make the haul up to Charlottesville, VA to see the great Dr. Coles at the Blue Ridge Equine Clinic. On Tuesday I spent the day trotting Al back and forth under the knowledgable eye of Reynolds Coles where we blocked him from the foot up. When the scans came up negative for tears or holes, we turned to the X rays, which concluded what I had feared the whole time along: Al has acute arthritis. Because of the timing of the event and the FEI rules, injecting with steroids was clearly out of the question. The only option we had was to do an Irap, which would be pulled from Al on Tuesday, processed in the laboratory overnight, and re-injected back into the joint on Friday morning.

I was happy to pick Bronwyn (my best friend and groom) up from the Richmond airport on Friday, horse, hope, and trailer in tow. From the airport we jetted to Blue Ridge, where Dr. Coles once again assessed his slight lameness and reaffirmed his original conclusion. We then injected Al with the Irap, and let Al do the rest of the talking. I was given strict instructions from the vet to do a long hack on Saturday, light dressage work on Sunday, then carry on with my previously scheduled plan for Pau. I remember distinctly telling Bronwyn as Al was being injected that “if this horse is not unequivocally 100% come Wednesday morning, he will NOT step foot on a plane.” Although reality was beginning to set in, there is always hope, unto which I cling passionately.

The last member of Team CEF arrived in Richmond on Saturday evening. I sighed a breath of relief as mom hopped into the car by my side. There is nothing like having the two closest people with you during a time as arduous and painstakingly disappointing as this.

Sunday morning finally arrived: the moment of truth! I held my breath as Bronwyn trotted Al in hand down the road. To my surprise, Al was 100%! Everything that had gone awry the past week (Phillip pulling out last minute, my truck randomly deciding to break down, Al’s sudden lameness) suddenly melted from conscience knowing my little horse felt miraculously better.

On Monday I drove up to True Prospect Farm (yet again, Al jogged perfectly sound before we headed out) and had a dressage lesson with Silva. Although the workload was tough, Al met the challenges with flipping toes and clean flying changes! I was really ecstatic that the Irap improved his soundness and I felt really confident about sending my pony across the pond for our debut international four star!

But, as all the top riders can attest, horses are capricious in nature, as they are in soundness. After Bronwyn trotted him up early Tuesday morning, the “hitch” showed its ugly face and the harsh reality began to sink in. Thinking that perhaps it could be from fatigue from the previous day’s dressage lesson, I decided to do a light jump school to see if he would work out of it. Prior to my lesson, I called up the great Kevin Keane to help me evaluate my horse, and come to a decisive conclusion as to the fate of Pau. Al jumped tremendously, leaving all the rails unscathed and in their rightful jump cups. I felt a wave of hope through my body that maybe, just maybe, we could pull through this.

Riding at the four star level is a dream only very few of us reach. Receiving a grant from your Federation and representing your country overseas makes it that much more magical! I wanted to do every thing within my power to get my horse sound, irregardless if it put me in debt until I was ninety-five or held claim over my first born child. This was MY dream and I wanted to make it happen! But wait, it’s not just my dream, it’s my mother’s dream, it’s Bronwyn’s dream, my father’s, grandparent’s, my student’s dream as well. And when I really think about it, the dream doesn't entail just winning Pau; the dream is about achieving success, being the best I can be, and bringing glory to myself and my country no matter the location of the horse show. The dream did NOT involve injuring my horse or wasting the Federation’s money. I have encountered so much heart ache from the sport and do not wish to re-live that loss ever again. I have also endured the loneliest drive home back to Virginia with an empty trailer...talk about a reality check.

On Tuesday evening, after Kevin evaluated Al’s condition, I decided that there was too much inherent risk in sending my horse across the pond, no matter how much it hurt me to do so. At the end of the day, the decision was up to Al, and although I was prepared to do anything and everything to make him comfortable, it was not meant to be. On the contrary, I am quite lucky when you think about it. This could have sprouted up when I arrived in France or even worse, soft tissue damage as a result of running the cross country. When it comes down the the nitty gritty, the timing was the paramount factor in my decision to scratch Al from Pau.

Considering Al had such a light year of competing having only done one three day (Rolex), six horse trials, and had the whole summer off intermixed with some fun-loving trail rides, I am currently assessing my maintenance schedule in order to have him in top form come next April. Next week I plan to have Dr. Coles administer his next injection of Irap and draw out a detailed maintenance schedule for 2011.

I am also excited to announce my new sponsorship with Choice of Champions! Al is currently on and will continue have the Super Joint Solution, Ulser Shield, and Lung Aid in his daily regimen of health and soundness maintenance and I appreciate their support through my past difficult decision.

Furthermore, I want to wish Boydy the best of luck and to once again, re-live his WEG success in France! I have the utmost confidence that he and Remi will do us proud! Be sure to watch him kick some butt LIVE at www.equidiawatch.fr!

I want to first and foremost, thank my mother Valerie and my groom Bronwyn for their undying support and understanding in such a troublesome situation. No one knows me or my horse more than these two gals, and it hurts them equally as much to witness my dismay. I want to thank the rest of my family who held off until the last minute to buy plane tickets, only to find they are non-refundable AFTER purchasing. To my students and friends who are whole heartedly sharing my long drive back to Virginia via text messages, Facebook chat, and phone calls. To the USEF, for believing in Al and I as competitive American Ambassadors. And finally, everyone who donated money, items, kind words, or well-wishes to Al’s and my opportunity to compete abroad. Rest assured your faith will not be broken and that one day, Al and I will be on top of that international podium.

Until then folks, sit back, relax, and go hug your pony! Get your voices ready; Boydy is going to hear our cheers all the way from the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave! Ce la vis!

Monday, October 18, 2010

It's CRUNCH Time!




They say time flies when you're having fun. Well I'm here to tell you it flies by equally as fast when you're stressed out too!
This past week has gone by like a whirlwind what with prepping Al for Pau, teaching my many supportive students, exercising my other ponies, and remaining in the loop about the standings at Fairhill and Boekelo.

Really quickly, allow me to digress: First, I would like to congratulate Doug, Will, Tiana, and Sinead on a tremendous performance in the Netherlands. With the US finishing in the second spot, we can all rest assured that we have some promising young talent that are both hungry and eager as they are able to win as these guys demonstrated throughout the weekend.
Second, I would like to send out my condolences to Jen and the loss of her amazingly talented mount, JB's Star. I have been no stranger to the loss of my four-legged friends and nothing can heal a broken heart like the simple panacea of "time and sunshine." During these rough patches in our lives as horse people, the best solace comes from the barn; that is, the feeling that you have to carry on no matter how bad you feel because you have other horses in your barn patiently waiting and seeking your guidance and assuredness. Throughout all the struggle these past few years, that's the one thing I have managed to attain and that has never led me astray. Lastly, I want to send out my regards to a dear friend and a well-respected horsewoman Sharon White and wish her a speedy recovery. I look forward to seeing the coveted orange Devoucoux fly around the course in the nearby future!

As our trip to France slowly creeps closer, I am feeling more and more confident as each day goes by and with each workout on Al. Because we all feel the need to "fix" everything at once and therefore "fry" our horses and ourselves, I have managed to compile a list of things I'd like to rectify before cantering down the center line in a couple weeks. I am very happy with my trot work and walk pirouettes in addition to my extended and working walks. However, I'd like to gain more consistency over Al's top line in the walk to canter transition in addition to maintaining push from behind in the canter work. As soon as I get him in front of the leg at the canter, all of the movements flow with ease...I'm very confident that Al and I will be able to fix these issues with a couple more lessons from Kim which I plan on taking this week.

The second issue I've had to work on is my nerves in the show jumping ring. However, just yesterday I jumped five different horses over fifteen different courses and all jumped clear bringing home a wide array of colored ribbons! Al was flawless in the modified jumpers class and bounded over the jump-off round to win the class and therefore give my confidence a swift kick in the pants!!! Who needs a warmblood when your riding a butterfly? Haha, that little horse always seems to make me smile!

When it comes to working on myself, I cannot stress enough how practice practice practice has made such an immense difference when it comes to being either an entry-filler or an entry-winner. As I've grown as a rider over the years, I have learned to pinpoint my weaknesses and hone in on them with a fine toothed comb until they become commonplace and casual.

This weekend I plan to travel up North to True Prospect Farm, where Al and I will have a light jump school and a gallop and I'll finally say "bon voyage" to Bronny and my trusty steed. Mom and I will see them three days later at the show grounds at Pau (I can tell you now that those will be the LONGEST three days while I'm apart from my main man)! For the time being, I am headed to Home Depot to stock up on bubble wrap in addition to fundraising for expenses associated with the trip across the puddle that the grant does not cover (which to my dismay is an exorbitant amount)! If you are interested in donating, you can log onto my website (www.laineashkereventing.com) and make a donation via PayPal. Believe me, any and every donation will be unduly appreciated and utilized to it's fullest!
So there you have it for my not-so-concise update on Pau! So far so good and all engines are a go! Until then, eyes up, heels down, and ENJOY the ride!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Parlez-vous fran├žais???



So it has happened. My wildest dreams have finally come true. According to the great Stephanie Boyer and Karen O' Connor, Al and I are "living the dream!" That is, we received the grant to represent our country at Pau CCI**** in France, November 4-7, 2010. Now that isn't to say that I would have turned down a spot on the US WEG Team, but let's just be realistic here...before we can earn that coveted Pinque Coat, we need to go out and earn our international stripes first!

Traveling abroad has always been a stressful experience due to language barriers, exchange rates, awkward maps and of course, driving on the wrong side of the road. Traveling abroad with horses, yeah multiply that feeling by ten! Traveling abroad with horses and doing your first international four star? Take that stressed out feeling, multiply it by another ten, then add excitement, anxiety, happiness and funnel vision all in one! Yep, that's precisely where I am... and those bundled up emotions accompanied with my incessant OCD, well folks, rest assured the barn looks nothing short of immaculate!

Upon hearing that I received the grant, I couldn't help but think of all the time that I have spent in the saddle just to even arrive at this point. All the thrills and spills, the happiness and heartache, the endless nights icing or doing a research paper, the sleepless nights...everything suddenly makes sense now. Sure, I have competed abroad a few times before, but nothing to this calibre and on this amazing of a horse! I truly feel that everything happens for a reason and it has been everything (and I mean everything), leading up to this point that has shaped me not only as a rider and a horsewoman, but as a human being and more importantly, as an adult. I have done some serious growing up over these last couple years and feel that this is my horse's and my time to shine, and I don't plan on allowing anything or anyone take that sense of accomplishment away from us.

Of course you know I could not even THINK about going it alone to France. My best friend, ROCK, and groom Bronwyn Watts will be flying with Al and accompanying him for the whole trip (and it's a long one) from JFK to the Pau show grounds. My mom, along with her puppy Delilah will be there to support along with a few other close family and friends who are eagerly are looking forward to the exciting opportunity that lay ahead. I am really happy to hear that both Boyd and Phillip are making the trip overseas as well, so that they can hopefully share their ample experience of competing at the highest level abroad with yours truly! Buck has also been great in giving me my much needed "pep" talks and keeping my eye on the target!

Until we jet set across the pond, Al and I will be busy getting a few more lessons from the DQ herself, Ms. Severson in addition to performing in a jumper class this upcoming weekend. I plan on heading up a few days before our flight to Phillip and Boydy's to gallop and jump a few sticks in hopes of learning a few last minute tips to achieve or most memorable and greatest performance to date! I know we've got big shoes to fill, but rest assured Al and I feel ready and eager to do our best to bring glory to our amazing country! Until then, eyes up, shoulders back, and grab those French translators people! We are taking Pau by storm!!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

To Fairhill or not to Fairhill? THAT is the question!




Well quite some time has gone by since the AECs and as soon as Al and I returned home, we hit the ground running....literally! The following weekend after the AECs I signed myself up for a local jumper show in order to hone the skills that I ignorantly took for granted the previous weekend. Just as I suspected, Alex jumped two double clear rounds in addition to a beautifully performed jump off leaving us with the top spot amongst the warmbloods!

Jumper land, check. Next stop, DQ land! After Al and I conquered our show jumping demons, we thought it would be a great idea to slip on our ballerina slippers and try our luck at 4th level dressage! The day started off grand as both of my students, Geri Hollander (who scored a 70%) and Bethany Astorino (who was riding in her first show since her summer xc schooling hiccup which resulted in a broken ankle) had personal best dressage tests with both of their talented ponies, Timmy and Scarlett. Shortly thereafter, I tried my hand at some 1st level geometry and rode my student Ann Wilson's Andalusian gelding Diego, who very happily pranced his way to first place. Finally it was Al's turn to strut his stuff. After a quick change of tack, review of a very different and profoundly confusing Fourth One Test, and a sip of the Sugar Free Redbull, we were cantering our way down center line. Aside from two late changes early on in the test, I was pleased overall with Al's relaxation and frame in the test. Although she was away at WEG, Kim's voice seldom lay dormant in the back of my mind...from start to finish I heard her constantly tell me, "more forward" or "ride his withers up Laine!!!" Al's test consequently resulted in a blue ribbon. These warmbloods better start getting nervous!

We arrived at Morven Park Horse Trials full of confidence from the past two weekend's practice sessions in jumper and dressage lands. Saturday morning greeted Al and I with below normal temperatures and plenty of air in Al's gaits. Although there were many "energetic" tests throughout the morning, the cool air actually helped with our impulsion and push from behind. Although we have much more to work on before our fall three day, I was overall satisfied with Al's test which scored a solid 27.7 (tied with a true DQ, Kelli Temple) leaving us in the top position after phase one. Al jumped super in the SJ and finished our first two phases adding zero penalties to our dressage score and therefore maintaining our spot on top of the leader board.

Because of all of the torrential rain a few days leading up to Morven, and because I can always use the extra practice, I decided to run xc on Alex. Although I wasn't planning on going for time, I did want to use the run as a significant part of my fitness regimen for my upcoming fall three day. When we cantered through the finish flags, we were welcomed home by a proud grin and a hug from my father Michael who flew out from CA to provide some moral support throughout the weekend. Making my parents proud is by far one of the most fulfilling feelings a daughter can achieve! Happily enough, Al and my performance over the weekend was rewarded with a shiny blue ribbon, which we proudly display in our tack room at our new wonderful farm at Edgewood!

Which leads me to my final piece of information in this blog. Have I mentioned my fall three day yet? The fact that I do not have an actual name or place for the supposed pinnacle of my fall season is because I have no idea where Al and I are headed to next. The grant for Boekelo was not awarded to Al and I because the selectors were looking for horses who were still at the three star level, rather than those who are seasoned at the level. However, the selectors asked if I would be interested in Pau CCI**** in France this upcoming November which I anxiously answered an exuberant, "YES" (well...duh!). However, the only way Al and I would head across the pond is if one of the WEG short listers turn down the trip leaving an open spot available to yours truly. So...again, we wait. Who knows? This time next month Al and I may be perusing through our French-English translators to find the easiest route to the start box....if not, well, there is always good 'ol Fairhill which has played host the best event horses and riders of all time...a level that Al and I are all too eager to inhabit! Until next time friends, heels down, shoulders back, and be decisive!

LEA

Monday, September 13, 2010

Paving the Road to Success: AECs and WEG



So after one of the most long, tedious, grueling drives of my life, mom and I are finally home from the AECs held at Carl Bouckaert's wonderful Chattahoochee Hills facility. While the drive seemed never-ending, the actual timeframe of the show went by way too quickly! I guess our elders were right when they affirmed, "time flies when you're having fun!"

Seeing all the friendly familiar faces at the AECs made it an incredible time. However, having my mom fly in from the west coast to share the experience made it all the more refreshing. Since the last time mom was out in on the east coast was for Rolex, I felt a little rushed in wanting to fit as many memories and fun times in her short visit as possible! To make the experience even sweeter, my best friend and former groom Bronwyn Watts (who happens to live in Atlanta) came to help out bringing the whole CEF crew back together for a reunion which made all-the-more special.

As far as the whole AEC show experience, my Al certainly did not disappoint. Since we were not nearly as seasoned as the rest of our competitors who were running throughout the summer, I was a little worried that perhaps my plan to give Al some time off to relax and "be a horse" might backfire come the end of the weekend. Since I wasn't showing Al this summer, I was busy honing my dressage skills with the DQ herself, Kim Severson, which really paid off come Friday afternoon's dressage test. Even though I was hoping for a lower score than we received, I was happy that Al and I managed to chop off ten points in the same test that we rode this past Rolex! Wow, hard work really DOES pay off!!!

The first time I walked the cross country course, I didn't know if my indifference to the questions stemmed from road weariness or the simplicity of the questions. I decided to re-think my assessment of the XC the following day after I had a good night's rest and sure enough, I soon discovered that the lack of sleep sometimes makes you think some crazy things!!! Although the course seemed fairly straight forward, I felt a sense of nervousness since the only cross country course my horse has seen since Rolex has been the preliminary at Loudoun Horse Trials. There is nothing quite like massive table with frangible pins in the middle of the field that brings you down from "lala" land and back to reality! Wake up Al...these fences may be a tad bit bigger than what we tackled a few weeks prior. Poor guy!

Al answered every question with ease, proving that my plan to give him an easy summer was perfectly suitable and completely necessary. Because the footing was slightly hard (with some AMAZING work from the ground crew at Chatt Hills I might add), I chose to ride at my own speed, and listen to my partner, rather than follow my watch. To my surprise, Al galloped through the finish flags with plenty of running considering the oppressive humidity and heat. I would like to add how much I enjoyed hearing Boydy's, Nate's, Leslie's, and Jon's PRO commentary of the Advanced cross country. It is always nice to have a familiar voice cracking jokes about his fellow competitors and offering knowledgable insight about the course to help calm the pre-XC nerves. It is equally as beneficial for those who are spectating and adds a certain excitement and anticipation to the thrill of the sport!

I hate to sound cocky, but show jumping has always been Al's best phase of the three. With that in mind, you had better believe that when I had two rails on Sunday, awestruck would be an understatement to the emotion I was feeling as we exited the show ring. For the rest of the drive home, I pouted and pondered over the reasoning behind the rails, much to my poor mother's dismay. I just couldn't grasp why the rails fell, or what it was I could have done better. Since it's been over three years since Al and I have had more than one rail in SJ, my mind was running rampant with ideas and answers as to what it was that messed us up.

Finally, I came to my final conclusion: George Morris once told me that the best riders never waste time honing skills in which they're already accomplished. He told me that in order to become the best, I need to practice on perfecting my weaknesses rather than my strengths. Having said that, since dressage has become so competitive, I spent most of the summer with Al learning how to consistently achieve clean changes and better lateral work. In fact, I think I spent so much time in doing so, that I may have overlooked our training in show jumping, since that has always been our best phase. So you see...no matter the level of experience or accomplishment, we as riders and trainers are always learning how to balance our strengths and weaknesses with that of our equine mounts. It's a perennial cycle...

Although I was quite disappointed with our show jumping experience, I was absolutely thrilled with our overall performance at the American Eventing Championships. I would like to shout out a special congratulations to Kim and Paddy. Having spent the past two weeks with them at her farm, in addition to countless times throughout the summer, I know how hard she has worked to improve their so-called weakest phase, and to have pulled out a clear round when it matters the most really speaks volumes for Kim's motivation and determination. I also want to wish our potential WEG candidates the best of luck before tomorrow's final selection and I am very confident that we have the rider and horse power to bring in the gold on home ground this year!

What's in store for me next? Aside from moving to my own barn in Crozier, Al and I will be busy prepping for Morven Park Advanced Horse Trials which is the first weekend in October. I will hopefully hear from our selectors by the end of the week whether we were selected to receive the grant to ride at Boekelo in Holland this coming October as well. Until then guys, heels down, shoulders back...and keep your toes and fingers crossed for Team USA! My heart will be with them in Kentucky as they take on the rest of the world for the coveted WEG title! Cheers!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Planning to Plan




As responsible individuals, we are constantly formulating a plan that suits our lifestyle and goals. As event riders, we also know all-too-well that life rarely goes as planned. Yea, that's kinda the story of my life right now. From my hunt to find the perfect barn suitable for my horses and I to train, to selling a horse that is literally next to perfect, to even my iPhone that frequently "goes on a vacation," well I guess you can say, I am currently weighing and utilizing ALL of my options! Yet again, another life lesson learned...

First things first: how are my ponies you ask? They couldn't be better. Al is finally back into tip-top form after his two month long hiatus from work, and is loving the extra attention from his doting mother (and awestruck fans). I competed him this weekend OP at Loudoun horse trials (his first show back since Rolex) where he finished with a second place and plenty of room between us and the rails! Oh Al...when are you going to jump according to the level you're being shown instead of thinking EVERYTHING is four star height? I guess that's a good problem to have! As far as my fall season goals with Al, well...there's a plan A...followed by a plan B....followed by a plan C....and so on and so forth. All I can say for sure is that our entry to Boekelo has been confirmed by both the American and Dutch Federations, so now all we need is a grant! Easier said than done...BELIEVE me!

The rest of the boys are doing well. Guppy has now added three more clear prelim xc runs and ribbons to his astounding show repertoire and will soon be aiming for a CIC* in the fall with hopes to move up to the big "OI" next spring. Seajack has been consistent as they come, finishing third on his dressage score both times out at prelim and will soon be looking to move back up to intermediate come the end of september, depending on my schedule with Al. I must congratulate Kristen Gore for purchasing Seven's Wild (my favorite mare), previously owned by my student Lauren Axelle, and is currently wowing the novice judges and bringing home the ribbons!

As far as the rest of my life....well, that too is subject to change. When I am not riding, searching for a barn to board or rent, teaching, working on Brushfire, cursing my crazy iPhone, or torturing myself with P-90X (thanks dad!), you will either find me in California climbing mountains covered with rocks and shaded by deciduous pines on horseback with my mom, driving my car early in the morning to teach out in Chesterfield (Sugarfree Red Bull in hand), or just plain asleep. I tell you what: it's not the summer heat that's been so draining; it's finding the time to even think about complaining about the abhorrent temperatures that drives me nuts...

As of now, Al and I are currently enlisted in the Kim Severson School of Arduous Geometry and Yoga (aka: frequent dressage lessons) in order to get our act together come the AECs in Chatt Hills in less than two weeks. Our goal is to put in three great phases, in hopes of impressing the selectors enough to want to send us to NED to compete abroad. Since my orginal goal to make the WEG team fell short, I have now learned that there are other, perhaps more suitable options that lay ahead. Now I know what Gary Mack meant when he said "When you get to the fork in the road, take it!" (Mind Gym...where else?) Until then guys, shoulders back, heels down, and HAVE A PLAN (but always know your options!) See ya in the start box!

LEA

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Werewolves, Vampires, and Horses!




Hello again guys!
I know I know, it's been more than a month and no word...I realize that now is a bad time to create an excuse for my excessive tardiness but in all fairness to me, it is, as per usual, all the horses' fault! Well, a certain Robert Pattinson and the highly anticipated Eclipse movie can share the guilt too but I digress...

Since we last spoke I have been tenaciously preparing the horses for their spring/summer show season. Currently, I have Seajack (who is for sale) who is competing preliminary, Barracuda (aka Guppy) who is trying to get his last few qualifying horse trials to do a one star in the fall, and Seven's Wild (also for sale) who is making her training debut.

I feel like I have been in a constant battle between myself and Mother Nature to see who is still left standing come nightfall and let's just say that at the end of the day, I am LOVING my savagely tanned arms. Being that I am known as "The Desert Lizard" around the barn (due to my uncanny ability to ride all day long without sweating or taking excessive drink breaks) it is certainly not surprising that I adore the heat. Odd, but not surprising. My poor horses...

The first show of the spring season (and since Rolex) was Seneca Valley HT. Seaj was doing his first horse trial since October of last year, Guppy was coming back from a month long hiatus during Rolex, and Seven had come to Deerfield only ten days prior in preparation for her training level debut.

The day of the show was brutally hot as it was hectic. Without the help of my trusty friend and student, Rachel Hinson (recent Randolph Macon grad and proud owner of another CEF homebred, IBackJack), I would have been running in circles wondering who's on first and what's on second. Since it was a one day event, and since I was riding three horses, which makes for nine ride times, and all within five hours, Rachel and I had a plan so meticulously arranged, that it would take an act of Congress to change (or maybe not). When the last horse was wrapped, watered, loaded, locked, stocked, and barreled, the gratifying sighs of relief from both of us demonstrated the feat that we had accomplished earlier in the day...we make a great team! Crow's Ear Farm brought home a third from the ever consistent Seaj, a sixth from my shiny little Guppy toy, and a magnificent blue ribbon from my star, Ms. Seven in her first training (with the only dressage score in the twenties!) All ponies made it home safe, soundly, and eager to roll around in their lush green pastures at Deerfield.

Two weeks later we arrived at Surefire HT. As Rachel and I woke at 1:45 am to head to Wawa to stock up on drinks, we felt as if the whole situation was a deja vu. And what a deja vu it was, because we literally saw a two of the same party animals stopping into Wawa for a sobering coffee from a long night out that we saw two weeks prior. I couldn't help but feel jealous of those night owls, knowing that their day was about to end, and our was just starting...but then again, I take it back, the whole throbbing headache situation in the morning from a wild night out I can definitely do without! I'll take horse hair over Hennessy any day of the week, or weekend!

Surefire went by even faster and easier than Seneca despite the hundred plus degree weather. All of the ponies met the demands of the course and the sun with ease, and again, Rachel and I drove home with casual smiles (despite being somewhat delusional from lack of sleep or food). Seajack again, brought home the yellow ribbon in his preliminary division. Guppy took fourth and Seven took second in her training level division. To top of the already fabulous day, my PRO/Am Team finished third, with all my teammates having successful and safe outtings! I look forward to being apart of the PRO/Am tour for many more times to come and encourage those of you who have the opportunity, to try it out! It's a great way to gain a "team" experience and encourage support among our eventing peers.

Before I bid you all adieu, I must quickly express my appreciation to all of you who have shown your support to not only my horses and myself, but to those of you who are constantly asking about my mother and her new life out west. Riding at these horse shows without her there physically has in no way been easy for me. However, just knowing how many people who care about her and respect her for the amazing mother and horse person that she is, makes her presence feel that much closer to me. For that, I want to whole-heartedly thank you all!

Next on the drawing board is Loch Moy I HT where I will be competing Guppy in the OP (for his final qualifying result), Seven in the training, and Scarlett (who belongs to my wonderfully "gimpy" student Bethany Astorino) in the Novice divisions. I have also managed to turn Rachel to the "dark side" as she'll be competing at her first horse trials in her riding career, at the novice level. So folks, until next time, shoulders back, eyes up, and shout out "Team Edward!!!!" Eclipse is FINALLY here (once again, thank you Beth!!! )

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Home IS where the heart is!






In between flying back and forth to Northern California to visit mom, prep Guppy and Seajack for their upcoming summer show season, teach lessons to my awesomely eager students, and scrub the thirty inches of mud off Al’s coat that he has managed to accumulate, well, let’s just say that since my last post, this girl has been busy!
After my post Rolex blues slowly began to wear off, my focus shifted to the upcoming summer season of events. Since I have spent so much time focused on Al this past spring, now that he’s enjoying his lavishly green pasture and is one hundred pounds heavier, the second group of steeds get to fill the four horse trailer (and simultaneously empty my wallet).
Last week I flew out to Sacramento, CA where I primarily went to visit my mom and see her newly established Crow’s Ear West in Georgetown. As we made the hour long drive from the airport to the farm, I couldn't help but notice the sprawling and capricious nature of the topography in Northern California. The highway took us through endless valleys and curved through intimidating mountains sprinkled with pines and furs alike. I took a long sigh of relief when my eyes rested on the all-too-familiar American River. Man it felt great to be back home! Mom always did say that “home is where the heart is.” Never until both my parents lived on the opposite coast as I, did those words ring so darn true.
As we pulled into mom’s driveway, I was ecstatic to see some old friends and some new. The ponies and Solar and Eric greeted me with whinnies and nickers and of course, Ivy, Huey, and that darn Chalupa dog (inside joke) joyously barked and trotted around the hot pink tracker to see their new visitor! Of course, before I did ANYTHING I ran into the house to let IT out of the cage, much to my mom’s and Mr. B’s dismay. At the sound of my voice, Milly sprang to life and flew directly to my head, where she stayed until I spooked her away so that I could go greet all of mom’s ponies and get a tour of the new barn!
After the tour and the meet and greets, it was time to get down to the real business. Now, for most people, their vacations are spent lounging and enjoying the time they spend AWAY from their job. As a horse person, however, a vacation wouldn't be a vacation without the smell of hay and grain, filling the water troughs, and of course, going on some SERIOUS trail rides!
Since mom lives near the Tevis Cup trail head, you had better believe the land is both beautiful and extremely unforgiving. Mom and I set out on our horses (she was on her mare Paula, and I on the four year old TB that had just come off the race track recently...ahem) and began to juggle the unrelenting terrain. To my surprise, Lyle never tired and seemed to gain confidence and power as the ride went on. Unfortunately, after about and hour and a half into our adventure, Lyle overstepped and lost a shoe, causing us to navigate our way back to the nearest road, and making his poor rider schlepp the whole way back, horse in hand...hey, I needed the workout anyway!
While in California, I also made time to teach some of the local pony clubbers in a show jumping and cross country clinic which was hosted in Shingle Springs near my old house in Latrobe and at the infamous Rod Hiskins fabulous facility, Eventful Acres. Let me tell you how much fun I had with those girls...not only could they ride very well, they equally matched their ability to ride with their enthusiasm to learn. As a coach and a student simultaneously, I can’t express how much it means to have eager and talented students with motivation and drive. It’s nice to go home after a long day of teaching knowing that your students held onto your every word and that as soon as I return back west, improvements will have been made! Teaching these kids helps me improve as a rider and as a coach. If I can use an analogy or show them on an aid on their horse in order to help them understand a point I’m trying to get across, then my mission is accomplished. Helping them simply helps me as both a trainer and a rider, and who could ask for anything more? Talk about a symbiotic relationship!!!
The flight home from CA was a long and tedious one. Trips always seem longer when you’re leaving half your heart behind. From my two amazing parents, to my grandparents and my cousins and my aunt and my uncle, to my wonderful dogs and horses, and of course my Milly...a six hour long plane ride felt like eternity. Mom’s move back west has certainly been hard on both of us, but I try to keep a positive outlook by reminding myself that things are always temporary and constantly changing. Like my grandpa always reminds me, “the sooner you leave, the sooner you can come back.” Wise words from a very wise man...
Since then, my time has been filled with pulling manes, doing trot sets, ample hill work, and some grid work. Sprinkle in a few circles and extensions and there goes most of the week for my riding schedule. I am still beaming from my ride at Rolex and keep a close eye over my boy even though he’s happily on vacation. Come June 1st, I will slowly start to implement a few hacks and trail rides to get the “boy wonder” back into action and geared up for the fall. First up in the three rounds of shows for the summer season? Seneca Valley; where I will be riding: Seajack OP, Barracuda, OP, and Seven’s Wild, TH. Until then, heels down, shoulders back, and take a long deep breath...an exhilarating ride awaits!

-Lainey

If anyone is interested in hosting a clinic, please contact me at LaineyEA@aol.com (please have a minimum of 12-15 students interested)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Post-Rolex Blues






So, it's been nearly a week and a half since my dream of crossing through those finish flags materialized. Last week all I was thinking was how to ride a double clear show jumping round; this week, well, I am not really thinking at all. I must admit that since Rolex has finished, the let down from all of the nerves, excitement, course walking, HORSE walking, and hauling back and forth on I-64, has been nothing short of traumatizing. I have grown accustomed to waking up at 6:30 on the dot, headed to the barn, loading Al in the trailer, traveling to a lesson or a gallop or a trot set, icing him down, riding the other boys, grooming Al again, working out in the gym, eating, showering, then heading to bed to start the whole process over again. It's your basic eventing barn hustle and bustle BEFORE the big three day. Now that that big three day is OVER, well, I guess I am having the post-Rolex blues. For a while I fed my addiction of four stars by constantly logging onto eventingnation.com to see the newest happenings at Badminton; but that too, ended too soon! I must congratulate Paul Tapner on his fabulous win...I fell in love with his horse INONOTHING, simply because the name is so cool...and of course the thing can JUMP!
On the contrary, Alex is very happy to be on a much-needed vacation although I have to admit that after going without one brush over his coat or tail since the Sunday of our clear SJ round, he is (was) embarrassingly dirty. So, I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to give Al a good long bath, much to his dismay.
Since returning home I have been prepping Guppy, Bob, and Seaj for their upcoming June events...poor guys, they went from having a lovely week-long vacation, to full steam ahead!!! I have managed to enjoy some hour long trail rides on Banjo which is always a pleasure; that little paint knows no boundaries...where there's a stream, we cross it, a forrest, we weed through it...there is nothing he can't do!
Well, there you have it...just a quick update for you guys! Aside from heading to the gym or to the barn, there really isn't anything else new with my life. Oh the life of an event rider!
I did, in fact, teach a great clinic in Maidens, VA at No Worries Farm which ran from 8am until 7pm. I was extremely impressed with the rider's skills and of course, the talented horse flesh that my eyes feasted upon! I can't wait until we do another on the 31st of July! I am also headed out to northern CA to visit my mom in mid-May where I will be doing an informal clinic with the local pony clubbers which I am eagerly looking forward to! Until next time, leg on, shoulders back, and ENJOY THE RIDE! See ya around!

LEA

Monday, April 26, 2010

Back in the GAME!





It takes a lot of time, preparation, training, blood, sweat, tears, casts, and focus to make it to the four star level. Top that with the tedious search to find that perfect four star mount, well, it seems next to impossible to make it to the level without unlimited funds and excess time. I have been fortunate enough to have had four 4* mounts at the age of twenty six, which although in most sports would be considered an age to retire, is a pretty ripe number in equestrian years. Aside from Mazetto who had already competed through the four star level before I took over the reins, Jamie, Frodo, and now Alex have been projects, horses that were overlooked on the racetrack and passed around in an endless abyss of suitable jobs. As many of the top riders know, a horse can have the talent, movement, temperament, and scope to be a four star horse but what sets him apart from the herd is indeed, his heart. Where Jamie lacked in his movement he made up for in his yearning to succeed and to compete. Where Frodo lacked in his scope he made up for in his obedience to please his rider. Where Alex lacks in his temperament, he makes up for in his bountiful and abundant talent. The point that I am trying to make here, is that the recipe for a four star horse doesn't have to exist in his bloodlines, rather, it the relationship and trust that he has with his rider, and above all, his heart.
To clarify some rumors, let me digress in retelling the story of how Alex came into our barn. In 2004, Beth Mueller, who had briefly leased my first preliminary horse, had given me a call telling me she had recently acquired a horse off the track that although he was beautiful in appearance, he was equally as difficult to ride. Because of his inconsistent temperament and his inability to finish in the top placings at the Charlestown race track, she offered the owner $500 to rescue the tiny little Thoroughbred from existing in a dog food canister. When he became too difficult to ride, she sent him to Paul and Lauren Tjaden, who at the time were in the business of re-selling horses for the sport of eventing. Coincidentally, soon after Beth told me about her new horse off the track, Paul called me up asking if I would be interested in a talented little horse, but warned me of his spooky nature and insisted that I give him a try, since he had been taking up room at their farm for over six months with no interested buyers. That week, I came to look at Alex with my mom, and as soon as Lauren lunged him, despite freaking out and throwing a shoe, mom and I looked at eachother thinking, wow, this is the real deal! He was such a beautiful mover with natural suspension and thrusted forward with ease from his hind end. His self-carriage was equally as amazing as he zoomed around the now ten meter circle swapping leads every other stride. So, I asked myself, ok so what, he’s a little hot under the collar....what’s the catch here? After taking us nearly an hour loading him into the trailer, in which he flipped over backwards during one of his frantic episodes, we finally were hauling out of the driveway. Although it was a hot and sticky summer day, all of the doors and windows on the trailer were shut to be sure Al would not kick, chew, paw, or throw himself out of the trailer. We had signed an agreement with the Tjadens that we would need a fifteen day trial with the horse before handing them a check, which although wasn’t enough to afford a used saddle, we certainly did not want to have a liability on our farm. However, as soon as we unloaded the now sweaty and tucked-up sixteen hand bay onto Crow’s Ear Farm, his whole attitude had changed. It was as if he had a revelation in the three and a half hour haul home and decided that he had better straighten up or else he would meet his demise in the dog food can once again!
If only it were that easy....after the summer was over I loaded my three horses up, Jamie, Frodo, and now Alex, and headed to UVa where I boarded with Marcia Carabell at Belle Brae Farm. After about a week of settling into his new temporary home, I soon discovered why Alex was such a “freak” at the Tjadens and possibly on the race track. Because Marcia’s farm was surrounded by cattle, Al was constantly throwing himself on the ground in the stall, running around in the pasture, and would take out anyone or anything that was in his path to rid himself of the monsters that surrounded him, including me. After moving stalls, closing doors, and switching pastures, we were able to calm him down and create another plan of attack on how to go about this newfound fear of cattle...it was really quite simple you see, and still remains to this day: Don’t let a cow within a ten mile radius of Alex.
Coming back to Rolex after what had occurred only two years prior was beyond demoralizing. As I grazed Alex around the steeplechase field, I calmly gazed out at the exact spot that completely ripped my life apart in the spring of 2008. I wondered if I had made the right decision in coming back to this venue, to this city, well, even to this sport. I felt as if the whole horse world had turned its back against me and even wished for my failure. As I stared into that open cross country field, my faith in myself, in my horse, and my decision to compete here, had slowly melted down to the raw emotion of fear...the fear of failure. No sooner than I could pack up and head back east to Virginia, was I met with smiles and cheers from my family, my friends, my support. I soon realized that if everyone else can believe in Alex and I, well, why can’t I do the same? Was there something they knew that I didn't? Apparently so.
The week of Rolex passed by in a whirlwind. Everything that I had hoped and dreamed for had come to fruition. Ok, so Al was a little naughty in the dressage ring which gave him an uncharacteristic mark in the high fifties that certainly left me disappointed but hey, this is a four star, there was plenty more to worry about rather than a few spooks across the center line and a couple of late flying changes. As I set out on the cross country course, my main focus was to have a clear and sound mind. I kept replaying certain special quotes from Mind Gym in my head, the most prominent being, “You have to be present to win.” I wanted to ride every fence on it’s own and give Alex the most confidence building rides as I could possibly muster. About eight fences in and three minute markers down, I knew I was sitting on a four star mount. Al saw his lines as soon as I did, lengthened his stride as soon as I asked, and shortened his body as soon as I sat up. As we cantered through the finish line, all of my fear, my anticipation, my anxiety, my nerves, and my pride came bursting out in forms of tears and laughter! I couldn't believe what I had just overcome, and the insurmountable demons that I had finally beat down! Not only did my horse grow up, I became a different rider and person in the span of eleven minutes and thirty seconds. That newfound maturity was only doubled as Alex and I finished Rolex with a double clear show jumping round to finish in fourteenth place overall, and eighth place nationally. Knowing all of the hard work both mom and I had put in, all of the disappointment, hospital visits, vet bills, lessons with Kim and Buck, literally everything that led up to this moment in the past two years, I must tell you, it has certainly been nothing short of surreal.
Now, for the most important part of my blog: the “Thank-You”s. Above everything, I have to thank my mother...for her support and actual belief in my riding has allowed me to press on when I had nothing else left. It is from her eye, her care, her love, and her knowledge that my horses and I have become what we are today. There is no one or nothing that matters more to me than my mother, for she is the only person who truly knows and feels how great this victory to overcome really encompasses. Second, I would like to thank Alex. Alex and I share a similar story in that we both gave each other second chances. Al was given a second chance at life when he was rescued from slaughter; and in turn, he gave me a second chance to ride at the top level once again, and most importantly, to SUCCEED. In short, we both gave one another a second chance at life itself...pretty profound statement I know, but it measures up on so many different levels. Third, I want to thank my groom and best friend, Bronywn Watts. Aside from my mother, B knows the struggle and the courage it took not only to battle my own demons within, but to bring Al up to finally become a four star horse...she has loyally remained by my side, and I plan to do the same for her in the many years to come. I want to thank my family, for at times they had to relive their nightmare in order for me to pursue my dream. I want to thank my students, Sam, Geri, Bethany, Celia and “Kabby” for being there to witness one of the most important days so far in my career. Furthermore, I want to thank my sponsors who have kept my horses and myself looking pristine and professional and have remained apart of Team Crow’s Ear through any disparity and controversy that my past experiences had sometimes encouraged. FITS, County Saddles, Heritage Gloves, Thinline saddle pads, Flairstrips, Triple Crown horse feed, and Southern States: your support and products have equally contributed to this successful result at Rolex. I also want to thank VV Skivvies for their new sponsorship with Team Crow’s Ear. Lastly but certainly not least, I want to thank all my supporters and fans who have continued to send encouraging words of support for Al and myself and have in turn, provided me with inspiration to keep doing what I love the most. Keep your letters coming!!! Until next time, shoulders back, chin up, and keep kickin on home! Be in touch soon!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Magic in the numbers!



And the magic number is.....#37! Even though I am not a superstitious person by nature, hanging around with Buck Davidson, aka “superstition FREAK,” I often search for signs leading up to an event that will foretell whether I do well, or take the “long walk home.” (Kids, please don’t try this at home!) Anyhow, if I WERE a superstitious person, then I WOULD be extremely excited that my number is thirty seven for the sole fact that three added to seven equals to ten, which is in fact, my favorite number. However, being that I sometimes like to use brand new equipment on the day of cross country, and I don’t have a certain pair of socks that I seldom wash in fear of cleansing the “luck” out of them, I have decided that superstitions just take too much time and effort. I have always been a firm believer in fate and hard work. In fact, a wise horseman once said to me, “Lainey, you’ve got to make your own luck,” and since then, I’ve never looked back.
There is a fine line between acting cocky and being confident. Although this past month I have lacked both, I am slowly gaining my confidence in myself as an upper level rider once more. Because I am overwhelmingly confident in my horse Alex, who I would put up against ANY horse in the world, I have recently learned to piggyback off of that emotion and belief, and force myself to realize that the hands that molded the great creature on which I am mounted were indeed, that of my own. The very fact that Alex has no problem taking the reins and helping his pilot out in times of uncertainty certainly equates to the amount of confidence he has in me; and if Alex believes in me, well, why can’t I believe in myself?
After the Fork I hastily grabbed my Mind Gym, and went to work. Having read the book nearly ten times, decorated with notes from the past five years and highlighters of every color, the book looks more like an artifact that would be found at the Smithsonian rather than my tack trunk. Luckily, mom bought me a new copy so I am desperately looking forward to scribbling, circling, highlighting, and dog-earring the new, unsuspecting pages of Gary Mack’s masterpiece!
Additionally, I contacted the esteemed Laura King, sports hypnotist and psychologist. Laura helped me a ton at the Junior Olympics in 2005, when Frodo and I were in contention for the top medal and I felt the pressure to be a bit overbearing. Knowing that I have a lot of work to do in the week ahead, I figured I would acknowledge and address my weaknesses head on so that I can firmly say that I will holding nothing back come the end of next week! I look forward to working closely with Laura in the coming week!
Aside from working on my mental strength, Al and I have been busy honing in on our skills in the flatwork under the tutelage of the perfectionist herself, Kim Severson. After our lesson today I could probably publish an essay explaining how to perform a correct pirouette that even Robert Dover himself may find interesting, as Al and I practiced our left-hand turn-on-the-haunches countless times until it felt like child’s play! Kim’s stern yet tender teaching skills really help to motivate Al and I, as we continue our quest in performing the best test when it counts the most. I constantly am joking about my lesson schedule because since Al is always on the trailer heading to a lesson or a gallop or a horse show, I have begun to call him my little “purse!” Poor guy....the funny thing is, I truly think Al enjoys the extra attention, and of course the chance to be rid of the smell of baby Higgins, the young calf that inhabits the field outside his stall.
So, we are six days out guys...Six days until the journey begins; six days until I begin to bite my nails; six days until I buy more sticky spray; and six days until Al and I live out our dream...until then, shoulders back, eyes up, and kick on! I’ll see ya in the Bluegrass state!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!




Happy Easter everyone!
First and foremost, I want to thank my gracious mother who agreed to drive home while I pensively jot down some of my thoughts from this weekend at The Fork. Sometimes we as event riders, who seldom live sedentary lives, forget the meaning of holidays such as Easter because we are in the midst of our hectic and exciting show season. However, it’s times like these, as I sit to the right of my mom (who is currently rocking out to Sugarland) that portray just how important family is to our foundation as athletes and as human beings because they are ALWAYS by our side, from our dressage, cross country, and show jumping rides, and, more importantly, on the ride home, where ever that may lead...so, Happy Easter everyone.
This weekend served as such an important milestone for Al and myself in our eventing career on many different levels. We arrived on Wednesday to perform our trot up as we had an early dressage go on Thursday morning. As I began my warm up the next morning, I was greeted to a stern shout “Lainey, SHORTEN UP YOUR REINS” coming from across the ring from a small person on a big white horse....from none other than the DQ herself, Kim Severson. I have been working closely with Kim for the last few years to hone my dressage skills but since I spend my winters with Buck in Ocala, and she winters in Aiken, well, let’s just say, Al and I were a bit rusty in her standards. I swear, if you could take a picture from the beginning of my warm up to my entrance into the main ring, Al’s frame changed exponentially, as I was made to shorten up my reins about six inches, and really “kick” him up into my connection. Al’s trot work in the test consisted mostly of eights, sprinkled with a seven or six here or there. However, the canter is where I lost the “lead” so to speak. Because of the different connection that Kim was able to extract from us, which was both foreign and tiring for Al and myself, Al managed to swap in the last counter canter, which brought our score from the mid to high forties, to a fifty, which was a few points shy of the goal I had set prior to the weekend. I was very happy with Al’s comfort level in the ring and although our test contained a few mistakes, I know we are well on our way to achieving a very competitive score in the MAIN ring.
The cross country course was a test of technicality and endurance as it offered more than six corners and undulating terrain that is constantly keeping both horse and rider on their feet (or we hope). I was very concerned about the technicality of the course as corners are Al’s and my hardest question to answer, as our past event record so immanently displays. The thing about cross country is things rarely go as planned, which parallels with horses in general. As I jumped into the first double corner combination, which was early in the course, I took a deep distance and opted to bend my line to both corners in place of the original plan which was to take the straight line. Although it may have seemed neat and tidy to onlookers, my decision to hold and wait costed Al and I a few seconds, which, at the four star level, is HUGE. As I went to the next combination, again, I “picked” my way to a deep distance to the corner, adding another stride that certainly didn't need to exist. After the water I managed to pull myself together and kick my horse in front of me and finish with a confident round, adding only 3.2 time penalties to my dressage score. Although I was ecstatic about my horse’s performance and fitness level, I was deeply concerned with my lack of confidence in myself. You see, a few years ago, forward thinking was something that came easily to me, something I probably took for granted. For a variety of reasons, I have become inconsistent in believing in myself and when something doesn't go exactly according as planned, I opt to wait, wait wait. Although I am constantly badgering my students that “the worst decision, is indecision,” I sometimes find myself in the same predicament, which, up until a couple years ago, rarely occurred. Somehow, I manage to let negative thoughts and nerves get the best of me, and rely on my assertive nature to get myself out of problem areas....however, at Kentucky, as with any four star for that matter, questions must be answered, and decisions must be made. In the next two weeks, most of my work will be done in my Mind Gym....because as Yogi Berra once infamously noted, “90% of the game is half mental.”
Alex couldn't have gone any better. A few years ago, had I ridden him backwards or put him to a wrong distance at the advanced level, he would have easily run out or given up on me. However, that’s what makes our sport so enticing..it’s not about me as a rider, it’s about Al and I as a TEAM. Where he is lacking, I pick up the slack and vice versa. Al handled the course with ease, despite my mind’s imperfections and cantered across the finish line ears pricked and ready for more. I cannot express to you how long the road has been with this mighty little horse, and just how much faith I have had in his sturdy hooves to take us to the top level where we have FINALLY arrived.
Show jumping has always been my hardest phase. Hard because it’s enclosed and not as inviting as an open grassy field, and hard because those stupid colorful poles fall down so easily! I knew that I needed to redeem myself for Al’s sake, and to finish off our last outing before Rolex well, so that we could head to Kentucky bursting with confidence and excitement. As we meandered up the long path to the main show jumping ring, fellow BDJ student Casey McCissock yelled to me, “just ride it forward Lainey!” Coming from someone who just earned herself a clean round, I had better heed her advice. As I entered the ring I took a deep breath, gave Al a pat on the neck, and approached the first obstacle with Casey’s advice emblazoned in my mind. As we crossed the finish line, free from time or jump penalty, I smiled to myself thinking how such a small phrase could effect my riding in such a big way! Thanks Case!
Al and I finished off the weekend in seventh place, in a class of more than fifty very talented and eager horse and rider combinations. I now have a better grasp on what it is I need to work on, and things on which I can ease up. I will tell you this much, I am sitting on one of the most talented horses of all, and I would put him up against anyone world wide. Big words for such a small horse, but pending his pilot is on point, we will let you be the judge... Until then, heels down, elbows in, and eyes forward...we are at nineteen days and counting!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Rain rain go away!



I must admit that since I have been home here in VA, the weather has been absolutely spectacular! In between trailering Al back and forth to Breeze Hill for our gallops and exploring areas to hack around our new abode on Guppy and Bobby, I have settled into my new life up north, seemingly with ease. Aside from the absence of my mom, which I must say is a MASSIVE void in my daily lifestyle, everything seems to be running smoothly and according to plan.
The best thing about being back in VA for my Rolex prep is the vast rolling hills for conditioning. Although Al was used to galloping the distance in Ocala, the undulating terrain and slow, long hills that VA offers really proved where we were lacking in our conditioning program. Because this will be Al's first attempt at a four star, in addition to my first time back at a level in which I haven't been the most consistent, I want to make sure that no stone goes unturned. Al and I have to be in our best condition physically and mentally at Rolex, and as most professional athletes discover all-too-often, we must make sure we do not peak a second too early. Having said that, when I am not on one of my horses, you can bet you will find me (and Brandon, who has recently been promoted from boyfriend to fitness trainer) running laps, doing the elliptical, or lifting some serious weights at American Family Fitness, which is conveniently located next to our apartment complex! No excuses now Lainey!
This past weekend Bonnie Mosser was very helpful in instructing Al and myself over the fences and on the flat. Aside from texting back and forth about the location of her farm's herd of cattle in regards to her ring, the lessons went really well and I took home an abundance of information that I think will aid in our performance at The Fork and of course, at Rolex.
Of course, I wouldn't be me if I didn't mention how awesome it is to be home and back teaching again. Although I've only been away for a couple months, as soon as I hit VA soil, I was inundated with calls from students seeking help which always makes me beam with pride! Needless to say, when you see a wave of people donning black and gold shirts screaming at the top of their lungs, don't be surprised if they're apart of Team Crow's Ear! Love you guys!
Anyway, just thought I would add a quick update to keep everyone in tune with my daily schedule in preparation for our nation's only four star. On Wednesday, mom and I will drive down to Norwood, NC to prep for a Thursday morning CIC*** dressage ride time. Keep your fingers crossed that Al's and my hard work is illuminated by this upcoming weekend's results! Whether we win, lose, or draw, The Fork always proves to be a good time! Until then guys, have a happy Easter and keep those stop watches on and running....three weeks and counting until the BIG EVENT!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Back in the (804)...





After eleven hours and fifteen minutes (a record time for me) of driving from Ocala, FL, Team Crow's Ear finally arrived to our final destination at Deer Field Farm located in Maidens, VA. We were pleased to be welcomed by graciously warm weather, spaciously green fields, and a surprising "moo" from our new neighbor, newly born calf, Higgins. Well, if any of you know Al and his fear for cattle, which is explosive to say the least, the first question that sprang into my mind was the height of the fences surrounding the boys' pastures; because if the wind blew just the wrong way and Al had one whiff of his new tiny neighbor, we would surely find him in another county! Fortunately, Tish Bostic, Deerfield’s trusty farm manager, moved the youngster so I could unload my big and brave four star horse safely!
Since I have been “home,” the weather has been splendid, with highs soaring to the eighties and lows only reaching a mere forty. Al and I found a bountiful field that plays host to hundred of acres of vast gallop space and long, rolling hills which will be perfect for our conditioning in preparation for Rolex. So far, aside from our near “cow” sighting, all of the boys have settled into their daily routines, and are delightedly enjoying their lush green pastures in which they seldom graze but often stare in awe! Silly ponies!
So, although I have moved back north, the plan stays the same: upward and onward! Today marks a week away from The Fork CIC*** where Al is entered to compete. Tomorrow is a gallop day, and the rest of the week should be comprised of a trot set, a hack, and a few lessons (jump and flat) from fellow competitor and friend, Bonnie Mosser. As of now, the main thing I am focused on is keeping up Al’s fitness regimen that my coach Buck Davidson has carefully plotted out for us (in addition to my own), and honing in on the small intricacies within the flat work that need to be improved. The Fork, with its competitive and formidable CCI*** entry list, should be a good assessment of where Al and I stand in our rigorous training program. So until then folks, heels down, shoulders back, and start your watches! The countdown to Rolex has now begun! Tick tock tick tock.... :)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Homeward Bound



Today, as I was slowly meandering over to the jump field to audit Buck's lessons, I suddenly realized that it was the first day down in Florida that I was able to wear a tank top...heck I may even jump off a ledge here by noticing my skin turn a few shades darker!!! Truth be told, the weather in Ocala, along with the rest of the world it seems, has been unseasonably chilly, so needless to say I certainly appreciated having to shield my eyes from the glaring sun as I watched those beautiful four legged creatures jump fluidly across the field. I was jolted into reality when I remembered that I am going to headed home within the week and suddenly felt the need to bask in the sun's warmth even longer.
The week of Red Hills came and went like the warm weather in Ocala. I always look forward to Red Hills every year, as the volunteers and staff that run the show are always so hospitable, and of course, mom and I cherish honoring our country by singing our national anthem annually for the event. This year, however, had a different feel for me. Because Al is uncharacteristically naughty in the dressage every year at Red Hills due to it being the first time stabling away from home with his friends, I decided to take Al alone. My plan certainly paid off as he was brilliant in the dressage, placing third behind two very competitive and seasoned four star horses in the advanced division. The cross country course was nothing short of difficult, but granted a more inviting appeal as the first seven fences were "gallopy" and really encouraged both horse and rider to settle into the undulating terrain of the course...and boy did Al settle! Al galloped around the course with ease, showing his four star capability and answering all of the questions that Hugh's course demanded. I must say, that when I crossed the finish line and cooled my horse, I beamed with pride as that day was the very first time I started to feel "comfortable in the uncomfortable;" that I finally started to believe in myself again. The faith in Al has always existed, however, it was the faith in myself that wavered...up until that Saturday. Al shot up to the top spot of the Advanced class adding only 11.2 time penalties to his dressage score. The final day of show jumping gave me a reality check as Al had an uncharacteristic rail, which dropped us into the second spot, behind fellow barn mate and Buck Davidson student, Andrea Leatherman. Although show jumping is usually Al's best phase, it was good for me to have the pressure of being the last one to enter the ring, and being able to actually RIDE the course without succumbing to nerves. Al's unlucky rail gave me that extra inspiration to have a double clear round come the final Sunday in April.
When Al returned home from Tallahassee, he was greeted by the friendly cheers of his buddies and fellow Crow's Ear ponies, Guppy and Bob, along with the thumbs up from our vet, Brendan Furlong after watching him trot down the cement. As of now, all engines go...
This week will be spent prepping Guppy and Bob for their preliminary event at Rocking Horse Spring Horse Trials. At the end of the weekend, I will have to start packing and planning for our long trip due north. Until then, heels down, thumbs up, and "ride em like you stole em!!!" (my favorite quote from good friend and esteemed rider, Ralph Hill)