Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Long Live the Underdog!

The road to the top is an adventurous one, albeit bumpy at times. Since relocating my whole life temporarily down to Aiken in early January, the path to world domination has been just about as smooth as the wavy sand roads on which I do my trot sets. I have been blessed to have met people like Randy, Vicky and Helen Knight, who own the farm where my horses and myself currently reside and who are gracious sponsors that have helped to smooth out the rough edges of my sometimes perilous journey. It is with their help and support, and of course their spacious farm that I am able to spread my wings and strive towards the goals that once seemed so far fetched.

Since I arrived in Aiken, I am happy to report that my schedule has been jam packed. I am literally in the saddle by eight o’clock in the morning and don’t finish riding until the late afternoon hours. Top that with cleaning stalls, feeding horses, turning out, bringing in, sweeping the endless barn aisle and cleaning tack, well folks, let’s just say I could probably make some serious dough creating a work out video based on barn chores alone! Who needs Tough Mudders when you’ve got Tough Muckers? You get the gist...and I digress.

Speaking of working out, I must admit that my strict running and kickboxing and pole dancing regimen has taken a nose dive due to lack of time. My goal for March and the remainder of the time leading up to Rolex will be to a lot more time and focus on my own health and fitness. Sure, riding nine horses a day may seem like a lot but when you spend nearly forty two plus hours per week in a saddle, it just ain’t cutting it.

Speaking of cutting, I had the pleasure of participating in the Ocala Make-A-Wish Charity ride for the third year in a row. My long-time partner and co-2011 Champion, Joe Harper once again pulled out all the stops (no pun intended) and brought me two VERY capable horses to try out and decide which one suited me best. After going through the dry work and chasing a couple cows down the fence, Joe made the executive decision that my best work would be done on Mongo, a horse who he won over $10,000 on in 2011 and is owned by Chris Brown (NOT the R&B artist/Rihanna’s notorious of and on ex). Following my lessons with Joe, it was my turn to divvy out the criticism. We made our way to Aaron Vale’s (who graciously offered his horses to use for the jumping phase of the event) and I yelled at, ahem, coached Joe through some rigorously twisty courses so he would be prepared for that evening’s festivities.

When it was all said and done, Joe and I sadly finished second, just one point behind Aaron Vale. Although Mongo and I squashed the competition in our dry work, our cow was not as enthusiastic about running down the fence and opted to go THROUGH us a few times in the wet work. Finishing so close behind the leader just made us thirst for the win even more so you better believe that Joe and I will be back next year to reclaim the title that we should have won for the third time in a row!

The show season down here in Aiken has been both hectic and exciting! First and foremost I have to thank my wonder groom Charisse Gamble who is not only new to Aiken, but also to the event world in itself. How her brain didn’t explode after Bronwyn and I listed off all her chores and duties on her first day of work I will never know! But she has stepped up to the plate and made my life practically a cake walk with her unyielding work ethic and uncanny ability to catch on so quickly!

Probably my most exciting piece of recent news is that my long time partner and Olympic hopeful Alex is back in action. Being that he had such a long vacation last year, Buck and I opted to start him back at prelim and ease him back into top level work so as to avoid any major injury from coming on too strong. I used the prelim at Full Gallop as a cross country school since Al hadn't seen a solid jump literally since Kentucky and aside from the random spook as some brightly dressed jump judges, we crossed the finish lines beaming from ear to ear!

Al’s most recent outing was at Pine Top where I entered him in the Intermediate class. Now I have to remind myself that last year after having him panic at the beginning of the cross country course at Pine Top due to the smell of cattle, I promised him that I wouldn’t subject him to that fear any further. But try as I might, Pine Top just fit in his fitness schedule so superbly so I figured, what the heck, why not just have a easy breezy school, at Pine Top...in a cow field. Silly me! Al would have been hard to beat in the dressage had it not been for the COW turned out in the pasture right next to his ring! It was all I could do to navigate him through the movements and stay INSIDE the ring but as soon as that last halt and salute was performed, I SWORE to myself that I would never put Al in a position to lose ever again. Having said that, I couldn't have been happier with his performances over the weekend. We had an unfortunate rail due to piloting error where I overshot a turn in the show jumping and Al jumped so high that his left foot actually touched the top of the standard therefore bringing down a rail! He was solid on the cross country despite a few too many tugs on my part into the first water but aside knocking off the rust, my little brown wonder pony is back and in full swing! Next stop for him will be in Southern Pines over the Advanced track! I had better pack my ear plugs for the “air” I anticipate getting on that track!

On a sadder note, not all of us were able to come away from Pine Top with smiles and grins all around. My deepest sympathies and condolences go out to Megan Moore and her family for losing her mount Grasshopper on the advanced level cross country. Having lost one too many near and dear to my heart, I can attest to the emotional toil that Megan must be enduring and this is just one more reason to stop everything you’re doing at this very moment, and go hug your pony. Probably some of the best advice was administered to me from my mother in the late spring of 2008 when she told me to seek solace in my other horses who were very much alive and yearned for my attention around the barn. They are, and will always be what continue to drive and motivate me from here on out.

I am very fortunate this year to have many horses under my tutelage who are all challenging and rewarding in their own way. One of my most exciting mounts, however, is a brand new ride for me and who I think will soon set the event world ablaze. I began teaching Road Star with his previous owner Amanda Blazkowski over a year ago in northern California. The very day I set eyes on the lanky bay gelding I could not help but ogle at his uncanny resemblance to my legendary mount Eight Saint James Place. Being that “Roadie” is not the easiest of horses to train, due to his limitless scope, buoyant trot, hot-under-the-collar personality and ability to go on daily hunger strikes, Amanda and I decided that it was in the horse’s best interest to come out east and compete under my string of eventers. Thus, the Road Star Syndicate has been formed! Lucky me! Make sure to keep an eye out for this one on the international event scene in a couple years folks, don’t let his somewhat gaunt appearance fool you! Many thanks to Amanda and her mother Val for believing in my training methods, my goals, and my ability as a horseman. And thank you to my dear mother for traversing the northern California country side helping to create yet another Crow’s Ear Champion.

Before I bid you adieu for the evening I will leave you all with one piece of breaking news. Now, anyone who knows me also knows that I much prefer birds and horses over dogs and cats. In the past, my tolerance level for disobedient canines is about as abundant as Roadie’s appetite. However, I can attest that today I am a changed woman, all thanks to my new pup, Isis.

On February 27, while driving back from Aiken to the barn, I noticed an emaciated tan colored dog timidly scampering down the side of highway 19. I drove past it, listening to my music and enjoying the breeze when all of a sudden my conscience chimed in. I immediately did an illegal U turn (shhhhh), and yet another illegal U turn and parked my car on the side of the highway in hopes of somehow luring this poor wretched creature into my two seater convertible with no food or harness. I was surprised at the fact that when I called to her (now noticing the bountiful of milk she was carrying in her breasts) that she didn’t immediately shy away and make a bee line for the neighboring field. Instead, she studied me rather intently, walked up to me, saw that I didn't have any food, and laid down wholeheartedly exhausted and expired of energy. I immediately phoned Charisse who very kindly found some dog food and brought it to me to feed the starving dog. After a few minutes of sniffing and becoming acquainted, the dog began to feverishly eat the kibble and Charisse was able to get a makeshift leash around her neck. Simultaneously, the animal patrolman pulled over after getting a few calls about some weird lady “dog whispering” to a distressed animal on the side of highway 19. In fact, he commended both Charisse and I for being able to catch the dog that they have been trying to pin down for over two weeks!

Seeing that the dog was clearly nursing puppies, the three of us tried to encourage her to lead us to them but to no avail, she was simply just too scared. He promised to look for the pups later that evening and I promised from that day forward to look after their mother. On the way back to the barn I began thinking about the irony in the whole situation. I was in a quandary as to what to do regarding the puppies as it was beginning to get dark and I wanted to allow the dog to settle and trust me. I couldn't shake the feeling that this dog had somehow come into my life at the perfect time and place, and how the circumstance was somewhat magical. Being that she clearly was well endowed with milk despite her hideous condition and that she trusted me enough to not run away in addition to the fact that I have always been a fan of Greek mythology, I decided to name the dog Isis, after the goddess of fertility, motherhood, and magic. How fitting.

I tossed and turned all night. I couldn't help but think about the puppies and where they might be and how they are dealing without their mom. Before sunrise I sprang to my feet, rallied the help of Randy and Vicki and gathered Isis into the car and returned to the place I found her. I attached the leash to her collar when we arrived and not two seconds later did that girl have her nose to the ground perusing the new environment. I followed her for over a mile, through woods, backyards, across the highway and down a sand road. We shuffled through prickly vines, made our way through trash and broken glass until we happened upon an abandoned car. I knew we had made it when Isis’ tail began to wag and she let out a whimper. In the blink of an eye eight puppies appeared from underneath the abandoned vehicle, all trembling with excitement to see their long- lost mother. I couldn't help but see the sense of relief in Isis’ solemn eyes as she peered up at me with eight yelping puppies affixed to her teats and said, “Thank you.”

It is today that I have become a changed woman. I placed all my faith in this dog to lead me to her pups and just as I was beginning to doubt their whereabouts, Isis never lost the faith in herself, or her puppies. This dog has become so much more than just a companion to me. From this very moment on, Isis and I will be inseparable. It is our symbiotic relationship that will stand the tests of time, for I need her just as much as she needed me. I am beyond thrilled to have this new addition to Laine Ashker Eventing and I hope by the time late April comes around, I will have her looking in mint condition for all of you to see.

So, until next time folks, heels down, shoulders back and NEVER EVER underestimate the underdog! Cheers!