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