Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Air Up There

"Are you able to get enough oxygen up there?"

This is a truly logical question that could be addressed to someone who happens to be on a plane or in a parachute. Someone could even answer this question who is attempting a bungee jump from a skyscraper. I am sure Dr. Sarah Gold could even answer this question when she easily finagles her way down slopes of the Alps via snow skis. But how can this question be applied in a jumping lesson? How can one possibly reach such high altitudes while on the back of a horse? Well, my friends, the answer comes in the form of a very small equine, dainty in stature, who's large eye and dished face makes him seem more of an Arabian than a Thoroughbred. The answer is: Anthony Patch.

Truth be told, the particular aforementioned question came out of Captain Mark Phillip's mouth after Alex and I completed one of the first courses he set while in the final leg of the USET Training Session a few weeks prior. I don't know if it was because I was overly focused on preparing for CMP's next course or perhaps I was too busy trying to hold on for dear life, but the humor in the question eluded my senses at that very point in time. It was only on the forty-five minute drive home from Three Runs Plantation that I realized what we had just accomplished. Al and I are officially one step closer to living a dream that once seemed a fantasy on my bedroom ceiling.

Aside from nearly crippling myself in trying to beat the infamous Doug Payne and Jennifer Brannigan in the squat section of our USOC Fitness Assessment (where I placed a dismal third) the whole experience, from my lessons with CMP to meeting with the USOC staff, was a fruitful and informative one.

The following weekend was one of transitions. This specific transition came in the form of a worn-in western saddle placed on the back of a very small unassuming red cowpony, accompanied by a rather handsome cowboy. Oh yes my friends...the annual Make-A-Wish Challenge had finally arrived. Ever since that brisk evening in February of 2010 when Joe and I finished second in the Challenge, I had been vehemently yearning to take back the title that dangled in front of our thirsty palates. Oh yes, it was time for Chuckie Waters to meet his maker(s)!

I arrived in sunny Ocala the Saturday prior to the Valentine's Day Challenge in order to get a few lessons from my cowboy coach, Joe Harper. Being as competitive as his eventing student, Joe graciously brought two cowponies for me to try out, Jethro and Sparky. Being that Joe won multiple classes that weekend at a Reining Cow Horse Show with both ponies, the odds were in my favor to match up with one of the two stocky quarter horses. Eventually I chose Sparky, a petite red mare standing only fourteen and a half hands tall. Where she lacked in size she made up exponentially in speed and athleticism; we WERE the ones to beat!

The pressure was on as Joe executed a glorious jumping test aboard Pistol (one of Aaron Vale's ex jumpers) to finish his section in second place. As I entered the ring to begin my reining pattern, I visualized the coveted belt buckle, adorned with rubies, gold and silver, which laid claim to a competitive english versus western charitable championship...oh yes...she would be mine! Aside from a big mistake made in our cow work, Sparky and I took the lead from ole Chuckie...and Joe and I never looked back! By the end of the Challenge, Joe went home with his new custom bit, and I drove back to Aiken wearing my new sparkly belt buckle! It was a pleasure to work with such a talented and knowledgeable horseman such a Joe, and to bring two worlds together that share the same passion in order to raise money for charity makes the winning all the more satisfying!

Soon when I got home from Ocala, I was brought back down from cowgirl heaven as preparations were in order to get Lyle ready for his second training level event, and May (aka Rising Spirit) ready for her first show of the season in the preliminary class. Being that I only had a few days to get to know May, I wanted to give her a confident ride to start her event season off on the right foot...no pun intended.

The weekend went by smoothly, with both horses executing solid dressage tests, jumping clear cross country rounds, and aside from Lyle's rider adding one too many before the triple combination, the show jumping rounds were relatively flawless. May finished a respectable fifth place at her first show back in a year and Lyle finished with an exuberant head shake and tail swish....my boy is starting to grow up!

This weekend will be Al's first show of the year. I am starting him off at Prelim, where I hope to perform a lovely dressage test, and use the jumping phases towards his fitness plan in preparation for KY. May will also try her hand (or hoof) at prelim once more before her move up to Intermediate at Full Gallop. I am very excited to be in the midst of my show season. Between the bi-weekly USEF Training sessions, weekly dressage lessons with Kimberly, earnestly working on perfecting Diego's flying lead changes, and continuously searching for the greenest bananas in the produce section of Piggly Wiggly (and to no avail), my free time has been squashed to a minimum. But all in all I'm a happy camper...I've got amazing horses, a busy schedule, a fancy belt buckle, and a cowboy hat to boot! What more could a girl wish for? Until next time folks, eyes up, shoulders back...and RIDE RIDE RIDE! Keep your eye on the cow...errr, the prize! Cheers!