Monday, August 22, 2011

Going Back to My Roots, Cali Style

My parents always taught me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, then I shouldn't say it at all...hence the reasoning behind the sporadic silent stages within my competition blog. Learning from my past experiences I have found that the “silver lining” is always easier to discern when given time to reflect on past events.

Truth be told this year has not gone as I had originally planned...but then again, what does when it comes to our equine friends or life in general for that matter? After all, there are reasons why we have black flag options and alternative routes on cross country, because “Plan A” sometimes (and more often than not) just doesn’t pan out.

Certainly not a stranger to adversity, once again I have chosen to push forward towards my dream of Olympic rings and medals, despite the capricious nature of the timeline. Al is currently coming back in full work and within the next few weeks I am going to have to decide my plans for the fall and what’s the best path that leads to the podium in London in less than a year. Lyle has very much picked up the slack by moving up to preliminary, and very successfully I might add. Additionally, mom has sent me two more very high quality horses, Model American and Affirminator, both of whom are for sale (much to my dismay).

Regardless where my fall season takes me, I plan on spending ample amount of time with Buck to hone in on the jumping phases, as I do believe that it was my main loop hole in my winter training when it came to my less-than-desirable results at Kentucky. Buck has always had a knack for challenging me enough to push through my nerves, but rewarding my strengths to boost Al’s and my confidence levels. Perhaps that is why I have trained with the man for over nine years...nevermind the fact that the guy could probably ride a broomstick double clear across the country!

Additionally, Kim Severson lessons are definitely on the agenda and in fact, are underway as poor Lyle is currently learning how to carry that very large body of his!

Diego (my dressage horse owned by my dear friend and patron Ann Wilson) and I are undergoing a complete “re-vamping” in our fundamentals, under Kim’s guidance. Before I had the opportunity to ride Diego, a 15.2 hand Andalusian gelding, I had mostly ridden Thoroughbreds with a few Warmbloods (and one, very awesomely cool Cleveland Bay) scattered in the mix. I was always used to using light aids and if I had to make a correction with my leg, a stern “kick” would usually do the trick. However, with Diego this is not so. Being that he is just “thick” (and spooky) enough, a kick with the leg doesn’t go far and the whip only makes him tense which disables me from getting his frame to drop and his nose pushed out. Although his show record has been impeccable, I know that this little creature has so much more to give, and more importantly, I know there are better means of riding him. So off to Kim we go! In one lesson, Kim taught me how to ride like “a German man” (in her own words) by using my leg as a wall and squeezing and holding it against his side for an aid instead of a swift “kick.” Needless to say, when I am not on horseback you can find me in the “legs” section at the gym doing countless squats, thigh strengthening and calf raises, and of course increasing my Wheaties intake.
She also taught me that with horses like Diego, who have an innate tendency to be dull, repetition in the dressage ring is ideal to teach them the aids correctly. It’s amazing how such small nuances that Kim pointed out have made such drastic changes in my riding! Every lesson with Kim is a reminder just how much more improvement needs to be made to my riding to be the very best, and believe me people, I am up for the challenge!

Outside of my own circle of horses, my clinic schedule and student’s horse shows have kept me very busy! I was lucky enough to have Heidi Seigmund come at the beginning of the summer to be a working student, along with her very talented bay Oldenburg/TB mare, High Sierra. Heidi started her summer show season off with a bang, bringing home the blue ribbon in the Novice Division at Surefire HT along with a coveted pair of Royal Rider Flexible Stirrups. Whenever I have to be out and about coaching or flying across the country to teach a clinic, I am very comfortable leaving my most prized possessions in Heidi’s very capable hands. I will sure miss her as she leaves to finish up her final year at William and Mary.

Aside from Heidi, I was very proud to coach some of my other very loyal and talented students who also achieved their personal best results. Alexus Taddonio, who also happens to own my first homebred Seajack, rocked around the preliminary course at Surefire HT to post a double clear XC (at her very first preliminary) of the few who added zero penalties in her young rider division. Bethany Astorino competed at her very first USEA recognized event at Loch Moy and aside from a few minor mistakes in the flat, performed the two jumping phases flawlessly to finish just outside the ribbons! Both of these girls have worked tremendously hard to achieve these results, and my grin couldn't be bigger!

Keeping on the coach’s hat, I recently flew out west to teach a handful of my Cali students (aka: my secret weapons) including my most favorite student of all (sorry guys), my mother! As soon as my plane touched CA soil I was in a teaching whirlwind, traveling from my mom’s farm in Georgetown to prepare my students for the upcoming Woodside HT and shooting over to Loomis to teach a jump/dressage clinic at the beautiful and spacious Dragonfire Farm. I cannot begin to tell you how nervous I was to help both Earl and Jen McFall, as both were idols of mine (and remain so till this day) as I grew up watching them take on various west coasts advanced tracks on tiny Thoroughbreds and Morgans back when my dreams of Rolex involved riding a stick horse across a make-shift track in our house that consisted of my mother’s hamper and my father’s computer desk. Man how time flies...and the memories just keep rolling on.

I arrived early at Woodside to help school my kids in the flat when yet another familiar face met my gaze: the great Yves Sauvignon. You cannot call yourself a true California event rider if you haven’t ridden with Yves, schooled near Yves, competed against Yves, or worn the infamous Oakridge XC colors of burgundy and white in which all of Yves’ students proudly display. Yves has brought many young riders along and helped them achieve their dreams of eventing grandeur such as Deanna Hines, Paul Ebersole, Earl McFall, Rainy Sealy....and the list continues to run rampant. While watching him confidently navigate a hesitant young Novice horse around the spooky show jump course at Woodside, I chuckled under my breath as it reminded me of where I learned how to properly use a “stick.” In my book, that man is one of the best coaches alive...his positive reinforcement, skills to challenge, and his uncanny ability to instill confidence in his students and their horses are what makes Yves one of the best coaches still to this day (and someone I strive to emulate). His distinguishable french accent certainly doesn’t hurt either...but I digress.

My Cali kids certainly came back from the Woodside eventing marathon with sweat over their brow but with smiles that could light up an endless New Mexico sky. They all possess many of the characteristics that I often see in myself, and their thirst to succeed is almost contagious. Rest assured East Coasters, when my Cali kids finally make the great pilgrimage out East they will be forces to reckon with. Mark my words.

Being back in CA again always makes me reminisce about the old days and seeing those familiar faces such as Valerie Owens, Valerie Mackey, Brian Sabo, and Derek and Bea DeGrazia makes me miss my native land that much more. Add to the fact that my whole family now resides on the west coast, well, let’s just say I am in a constant state of tug-of-war between my head and my heart. Part of me wants to move back to be closer to the people I care about the most, but the other part of me wants to remain on the east, and to continue to chase my dream. However, due to the firm grip my addiction to horses and eventing has over me, I think we all can predict the victorious side to that least for now. Which leads me to my next train of thought...chasing the “actual” dream.

We all know that this sport of eventing is a tough one, both mentally and physically, but mostly, financially. Being that I have always owned my top horses along with my mother, there is constant financial pressure and lack of funds to show and get seen. In a perfect world, I would be competing in England with a string of four star mounts that couldn’t be counted on one hand. But back to reality, and while we are not as geographically advantaged as the Europeans, we certainly have the horse and rider talent right here in America, most of whom (myself included) just need that extra “push.” That being said, I would love to increase my horse arsenal to prepare for London, Normandy and Rio, and I am vigorously searching for owners who are as avid a horse enthusiast as I. I just need a chance...and I hope that someone out there, anywhere in the world, may read this blog and grant me the opportunity to do so.

So what shall you expect from Laine Ashker Eventing and Crow’s Ear Farm as the fall season quickly approaches? Putting BACK on my coach’s hat, I am traveling back to the west coast at least twice more to coach at Woodside and Galway in between the months of September and October. Next month I am traveling to the blue grass state of Kentucky to teach a clinic put on my Bill Kraatz. My clinic-ing season closes with a trip to Minnesota to teach the Croixside Pony Club in November. I feel like I will be riding a plane more than a horse in spanning the nation to teach these clinics, all for which I am equally amped.

Switching to competition mode, Lyle will continue learning the ropes at the Preliminary level with Mod and Affirminator trying their hand (or hoof) at Novice. The Champ will be back in action soon, but I have not yet consulted with Buck in regards to the best plan of action that sets us on the right track to London 2012. Diego Fuego will continue at Second Level in hopes of achieving a qualifying score for the GAIG (dressage championships) in the Fall and perhaps trying to tackle a few third level movements through the interim. As I dust my britches off, slip on my boots and crack my knuckles I can’t help but feel anxiously excited for what prospects lay ahead for me in the Fall of 2011. Until next time folks, sit back, relax, take a deep breath and EMBRACE THE STRUGGLE...for it’s what shapes our bittersweet success in the future. Cheers!