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Monday, November 28, 2011

Thank You, Mom and Dad

I just found this wonderful essay over on Eventing Nation, and thought I would do my part to pass it along. It's too good not to share. I'm pretty sure my parents would agree with all of this (even though we didn't "have" a horse - they were certainly responsible for me riding and being around them)!


(Author Unknown)

A Father's Explanation of Why He Had Horses for His Children

My daughter turned sixteen years old today; which is a milestone for most people. Besides looking at baby photos and childhood trinkets with her, I took time to reflect on the young woman my daughter had become and the choices she would face in the future. As I looked at her I could see the athlete she was, and determined woman she would soon be. I started thinking about some of the girls we knew in our town who were already pregnant, pierced in several places, hair every color under the sun, drop outs, drug addicts and on the fast track to no-where, seeking surface identities because they had no inner self esteem. The parents of these same girls have asked me why I "waste" the money on horses so my daughter can ride. I'm told she will grow out of it, lose interest, discover boys and all kinds of things that try to pin the current generation's "slacker" label on my child. I don't think it will happen, I think she will love and have horses all her life.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has compassion. She knows that we must take special care of the very young and the very old. We must make sure those without voices to speak of their pain are still cared for.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned responsibility for others than herself. She learned that regardless of the weather you must still care for those you have the stewardship of. There are no "days off" just because you don't feel like being a horse owner that day. She learned that for every hour of fun you have there are days of hard slogging work you must do first.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned not to be afraid of getting dirty and that appearances don't matter to most of the breathing things in the world we live in. Horses do not care about designer clothes, jewelry, pretty hairdos or anything else we put on our bodies to try to impress others. What a horse cares about are your abilities to work within his natural world, he doesn't care if you're wearing $80.00 jeans while you do it. *

Because my daughter grew up with horses she learned about sex and how it can both enrich and complicate lives. She learned that it only takes one time to produce a baby, and the only way to ensure babies aren't produced is not to breed. She learned how babies are planned, made, born and, sadly, sometimes die before reaching their potential. She learned how sleepless nights and trying to out-smart a crafty old broodmare could result in getting to see, as non-horse owning people rarely do, the birth of a true miracle.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she understands the value of money. Every dollar can be translated into bales of hay, bags of feed or farrier visits. Purchasing non-necessities during lean times can mean the difference between feed and good care, or neglect and starvation. She has learned to judge the level of her care against the care she sees provided by others and to make sure her standards never lower, and only increase as her knowledge grows.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned to learn on her own. She has had teachers that cannot speak, nor write, nor communicate beyond body language and reactions. She has had to learn to "read" her surroundings for both safe and unsafe objects, to look for hazards where others might only see a pretty meadow. She has learned to judge people as she judges horses. She looks beyond appearances and trappings to see what is within.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned sportsmanship to a high degree. Everyone that competes fairly is a winner. Trophies and ribbons may prove someone a winner, but they do not prove someone is a horseman. She has also learned that some people will do anything to win, regard- less of who it hurts. She knows that those who will cheat in the show ring will also cheat in every other aspect of their life and are not to be trusted.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has self-esteem and an engaging personality. She can talk to anyone she meets with confidence, because she has to express herself to her horse with more than words. She knows the satisfaction of controlling and teaching a 1000 pound animal that will yield willingly to her gentle touch and ignore the more forceful and inept handling of those stronger than she is. She holds herself with poise and professionalism in the company of those far older than herself.

Because my daughter grew up with horses she has learned to plan ahead. She knows that choices made today can effect what happens five years down the road. She knows that you cannot care for and protect your investments without savings to fall back on. She knows the value of land and buildings. And that caring for your vehicle can mean the difference between easy travel or being stranded on the side of the road with a four horse trailer on a hot day. When I look at what she has learned and what it will help her become, I can honestly say that I haven't "wasted" a penny on providing her with horses. I only wish that all children had the same opportunities to learn these lessons from horses before setting out on the road to adulthood.


* As much as I like this, I afraid I must snark comment on this section: Does the horse also not care if you're wearing TS breeches, a Charles Owen/GPA helmet, this show coat, these boots and he's sporting this saddle? Right, didn't think so. It's kind of depressing that a lot of kids and judges do think this matters, by all appearances. I hope whomever wrote this really did raise his kid to look beyond the cover of the book. :-)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The 2011 Maclay Finals

If you recall, I was very high on the winner of the Regional/Zone 5 Maclay finals held here in St. Louis. Sarah Milliren was the young lady's name and I thought she was a terrific rider, literally from the moment her horse set foot in the ring. I've found a video of her Regional ride here. There was no question that I'd be rooting for her at the National Championship along with Bethany Bolen, the nice girl I'd spent time talking to before she took her turn (she finished third).

So you can imagine that I was bit disappointed when I was finally able to lay my hands on the order of go for the first round of the Maclay, and realized I would not be able to watch Sarah or Bethany's trips:
Sarah was #44, and Bethany came shortly after at #48. My problem was I would be over at Wendy's barn when they rode. I had dropped in to the Arena long enough to get the sheet, take a look at the course map and watch a couple of riders' trips, but then Wendy picked me up. All I could do was cross my fingers and hope the young ladies did well with this very, very tricky course:
Sorry for the lovely grease stain from my lunchtime cheeseburger. The food was really good :-).
I do not think you will be surprised to hear that the one-stride "fan" jump, #10a and 10b, was the bugaboo of about 95% of the riders this day. Horses smacked into one or both of these jumps practically every time through. Here's a look at someone jumping in:
I must admit to never having seen a jump set-up like this before. I'm wondering how many of these kids practiced them, either, given the number of issues I saw. Probably it was just the fact that they had to approach the fences off the wicked, bending line which started back at Fence #8. It was waaaaaaay too easy to not get yourself set up right. And yes, in case you are wondering, they DID have the option to take the bounce route through the inside/lower part of the vee. Out of all the riders I eventually watched go, only two did that. Personally, I found that a little puzzling; I'm not sure if it's because they thought that way was too easy, or too hard (unlike me to not have asked someone). Besides, I like bounces. I am anxiously awaiting what I hope will be a written analysis of this course in an upcoming issue of one of my magazines!

If you can make out some of my dotted lines there on the course map, you can see the riders also had many options when it came to finding routes to the jumps. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen any kind of hunter course, Big Eq or not, with quite that many options. It was truly mind-boggling! For example, there were three different routes you could take just from #2 to #3a, and then they could pick which side of the "3" jumps they wanted to do. I think virtually everyone did the lower pair (as seen on that map). Once out of there, they had three choices of how to get to #4a!

Before you get any more confused, here's a video of someone's ride in Round 1. This youngster is maybe 13 years old, and in her first year of showing at 3'6", so her trip is not the smoothest. In comparison, here's someone else who did a really nice job. BUT, she didn't make the flat phase, either.

Who did? Hee hee hee... when I got back to the Arena after Wendy dropped me off, they were on about #138 in the order of go. I asked someone how Sarah did, and what do you suppose was the answer? She was first in the callbacks so far! FIRST! I nearly fell off my chair. Sure wish I could have seen that ride, and unfortunately, I am unable to find any video of it. Oh, well, I couldn't be two places at once and I certainly enjoyed meeting Ollie and Toby.

I settled in and began watching rounds. One rider I was anxious to see was Kalvin Dobbs. His name was familiar and I'm still not sure why; it's either because I saw him here at a Regional, or because he was a top rider in a previous Maclay Final. This time he didn't do too well. Megan Bifano, who came in second here, had a very good trip. Another girl who I recognized from our Regional, along with that "poker-face" girl, did not have good rides (I was not too sorry about the latter, I'm afraid: she was just as odd here as she had been at home. Can we say "Stepford Rider"?). Neither did either of the boys from here who I thought had no business finishing as highly as they had. Interesting.

Round 1 finally ended at about 3:30 PM (it had started at 7:00 AM), and the preternaturally fast crew was back zooming around collecting the jumps and dragging. The riders came back for the flat phase in three waves of 12, in reverse order of preference from the judges. Guess who was still in first place?? That's right, Miss Sarah. I was incredulous and delighted!

Notable in their absence during the flat phase were Lillie Keenan, who won the International Hunter Derby Finals over her trainers and who has done extremely well in other Big Eq classes this year (and finished 5th in last year's Maclay), and a certain young lady who was the owner of those five horses I saw show in the local Hunter Derby. Notable in their presence were four boys, all of whom made the top group. I'd say this is statistically significant because only 14 of the original 198 riders were male (as far as I can tell from the list - some of those names are a bit ambiguous, like "Hasbrouck." I just happen to know she was a girl.) What is the deal with the boys? Let's just say, I was not impressed with two of them. At all. Another one looked pretty good, and one I liked very much, but I'm sorry, the boys just tend to have crummy posture and that drives me crazy.

The flat classes went by pretty quickly - the usual deal of w/t/c/lengthen trot/lengthen canter - and we all waited to see who'd make the final 18. I wound up being quite pleased with myself, because all three of the riders I liked best from Group 2 advanced to the final round (nobody from Group 1 went all the way up). This included Megan Bifano, so I had someone else to root for.

The jumps were reset in a new course (I am sorry, but I didn't get a map), and I'm sure the riders were not thrilled to see their old friend the fan jump was back... and the first element had to be trotted. They were coming from the other direction, though. Here are some kids and trainers checking it out during the course walk:
After this jump combination, the riders were supposed to hand gallop to the next fence. I say "supposed to" because unfortunately, I didn't see very many true gallops. In my humble opinion, they also had had the chance to gallop to the final fence in Round 1 and practically no one did - I know from reading past Maclay summaries that judges are favorably impressed when a hand gallop is offered, so why not? Guess most people are afraid they won't be able see a good distance. Anyway, it was a "required" element of the Final Round course here and still not all of them did it. A slightly faster canter ain't cuttin' it kids, I want to hear those hooves thumping in the dirt! It really was rather frustrating. I found myself leaning forward in my seat trying to urge the horses on!

I kept very detailed notes on all 18 trips in the final round. Once again, the riders were called back in reverse order. The first rider performed her gallop admirably; I thought the rest of her round was good, too. And luckily, here it is for you to see! Most people did really well. A few probably left the ring and burst into hysterical tears (I know I would have) like the boy whose horse decided that now was the time to be pissy and nearly refuse a jump. It was NOT rider error. Poor Megan from my Regional rode 7th and had one of the worst rounds, with a bunch of sticky fences.

Speaking of boys, there was a big roar from the crowd when the one who I really didn't care for (initials CB) entered the ring for Round 2. Clearly he was a favorite and I actually did recognize his name; he finished 2nd in the Maclay in '09 (was not in the top 10 last year), and has a string of major Big Eq wins under his belt. I'm sure he is a perfectly nice young man and he did put in a lovely round, but I just cannot forgive his bent back and dare I say it, heavy seat. This is again, my humble opinion - maybe I'm crazy and I don't want a Googling posse on my tail, so that's why I'm just using initials here!

Another boy, Michael Hughes, who I did like very much, was called back on top for this round. Sarah was second and by the time she rode, let me tell you, I was a nervous wreck. However, her round, along with those of two other girls who were called back third and fourth, was clearly superior to Michael's. My nerves were then not helped when the judges announced that there would be further testing for the three girls...  apparently only one point separated them. Surprise, surprise, they were asked to switch horses and re-ride the Round 2 course. Grooms were allowed in the ring to help and I had a friend who was following online exclaim on FB, "Since when are grooms invited in there to do the tack and give a leg up???" I guess that is a relatively new wrinkle. My friend (along with some other folks) thought it was pretty stupid, considering this is supposed to be a horsemanship test and they should be able to tack and mount from the ground by themselves.

Elizabeth Benson went first aboard Sarah's horse, and I thought that although she did a great job, there was room above her. Come to find out she actually lost a stirrup - I didn't see that, but apparently Terrapin Station put in a big jump she didn't expect. Demi Stiegler went next and I felt was not quite as good, especially in the gallop. Then came Sarah. I was practically hyperventilating at this point and could hardly stand to watch. I held my breath... good pace... good jump... good trot through the fan... good gallop... SHE NAILED IT!!! There were a couple of knocks but boy, did she ever perform! Here is video of all three final rides.

Here's another look at Sarah's final two rides (watch your volume control!): I hope you will agree that she did a phenomenal job!

When they announced Demi in second place and we knew that Sarah had the win (though I'd really had no doubt), I went completely nuts. I mean, tears pouring down my face, screaming my head off nuts. I ask you, what are the chances that the one rider I knew about first-hand, the one rider I'd been so wowed by, would actually win the whole darn thing, out of 197 people??  I still just can't believe she won. I don't know how to find the exact statistics, but I don't think too many Region 5 riders - from Oklahoma, no less! - have taken first place in the past. Sarah is also not one of the "big names" in Big Eq, and according to several people I asked, certainly was not considered a favorite. Like it or not, we all know that reputation definitely has an impact on horse show placings, so I think it is just extra-marvelous that she won. Here she is getting all her goodies:
A group of people sitting behind me were yelling and carrying on just as loudly as I was. After all the hoopla had died down a little bit, I talked to one of them and found out she was the wife of one of Sarah's trainers. I was delighted to learn that Sarah is wonderful, polite down-to-earth kid who has not been spoon-fed expensive horses her whole life. Oh, no: this was a boot-strap operation to some extent, with her whole family including Grandma pitching in to help. She truly earned these accolades. In a news article I found, her (I think part-time) trainer Don Stewart said, "Any horse I put her on, she gets the job done... she really is a natural." From what I've seen, I completely agree. :-)

Happy Thanksgiving, All!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Racehorses Who Are Now Showhorses

Before I left for Kentucky, I contacted Wendy Uzelac Wooley, writer of the wonderful "From Racehorse To Showhorse" blog that I've been reading for a couple years. I was very pleased when she said we could get together and I could come and meet her two horses! Wendy moved to Lexington about a year ago after marrying fellow equine photographer Matt Wooley. I'm just a teeny-weeny bit jealous... living in the Bluegrass... photographing gorgeous farms/horses/animals every day (and weddings, which I also love)... having two beautiful TBs of her own... one of them grey... I mean, gosh, why would I be?? ;-)

We first connected on Saturday night at the horse show. I can report that Wendy's even prettier in person and just as nice as I expected. :-) She and Matt sat at one end of the arena and took some fabulous pictures of the Grand Prix horses. I sat in the middle and took crappy ones with my phone - some things are definitely best left to the pros, hah! (Although some of my fellow bloggers do manage to take very respectable amateur photos. I really do need a good camera one of these days.) We arranged for her to pick me up the next morning at the Arena and take me to her barn.

Good thing we did, too, because I never would have found the place on my own! The Bluegrass region is home to a couple major superhighways, some heavily-trafficked main roads, a few minor roads and approximately three hundred thousand not very well-marked maybe-one-and-a-half-car-width "lanes" that wind in and around the farms. It was the latter we traversed for some time in Wendy's truck to get to her boarding place. Did I mention it's not a small truck, either?? I asked her, with no little trepidation, "What do you do if someone is coming the other way?" It is important to note that a lot of these narrow lanes are bordered by beautiful but substantial-looking stone fences and trees. Not a whole lot of places to go if someone comes pelting around a corner. She kind of shrugged and said, "Well, usually someone will yield and pull off to the side." Okay, then. I resigned myself to my fate and spent my time rubbernecking at all the simply beautiful farms we were passing.

One of these farms, Winter Quarter, was right near Wendy's barn. If that place name rings a bell, it's because that is where the great and wonderful Zenyatta was born. Even though it looked like any other (lovely) place in the Bluegrass, I was pretty tickled to see it. You know that every time a new little TB foal hits the ground, the breeder is hoping the next Super Horse/Derby/Classic winner has been born. I love to think about all the potential world-beaters I saw romping around the fields or in utero in the many broodmares I saw. The owner of Winter Quarter has been to see Zenny fairly recently, now that she's nearby at Lane's End - I wonder if she remembers him?

We also passed seemingly endless miles of Darley and Shadwell property. The former is owned by "Sheikh Mo," as he is colloquially known. From the website: Darley is HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s global breeding operation which currently stands stallions in six countries around the world. Shadwell is owned by Sheikh Mo's brother, who keeps a much lower profile. They stand the mighty Invasor who if we'd had time, I might have been able to catch a glimpse of. Wendy also pointed out a white TB who lives on the farm right next to hers, who she's been watching since he was a little fellow. I think different-colored Thoroughbreds are really cool and would not mind having one myself. When I get around to blogging about my first fall visit to Lexington, I'll show you one that was really wild-looking and causing a sensation at the Keeneland Sale.

Wendy's two horses live in a really nice place. The barn is a common type for the area, i.e. a converted tobacco barn. I have been told these make great horse barns because of the excellent ventilation (they are by no means "air tight," having deliberate spaces between the boards to facilitate drying of tobacco leaves). Ollie and Toby get to spend most of their time out in a huge pasture with some friends:
As you can see, it was a simply gorgeous day. It must have rained fairly recently and made some mud somewhere, though, because dear Ollie had rolled thoroughly and was covered in dried muck. Naturally Toby the bay horse was spotless! Wendy and I walked about halfway down the fence line to the gate where the boys were waiting. She haltered Toby, clipped on his lead and I was allowed to bring him back up to the barn. He was quite a gentleman even though he was definitely eager to get to his grain!
You can see what a mess Ollie was - leave it to the grey/white horse.
 Here's what the guys eat:
I don't know what Ollie's main feed is but Toby gets Triple Crown Senior (pictured right). He hasn't eaten this for all that long but Wendy is very pleased with how he's doing on it. [As a side note, when I got back to the horse show I happened to walk by the Triple Crown booth, so I told them I'd just met a horse who liked their Senior feed very much. The lady offered to give me the open bag they had on display when the show ended! Unfortunately, I had no way to get it back to my car, but being fond of "giveaways" I was very tempted to try and get this to Wendy. Something to keep in mind next time you're at a trade show with exhibiting grain manufacturers.]

Ollie has been having a bit of trouble with choke (Wendy just had him checked by the vet and fortunately, he's fine, just greedy, so wetted-down food is in his future) so we watched them eat and then pulled Ollie out for a bit of grooming. We were able to get him looking pretty decent and less like a fake Pinto. :-) Wendy said we could take some photos to commemorate my visit, and first we got this with my trusty iPhone:
Then I was lucky enough to be the beneficiary of Wendy's photographic expertise. She shut the door at the far end of the barn and I stood with the horses at the open end with the sun shining full on us. This somehow creates a black background. These were the nifty result!

Thank you SOO much, Wendy, for this terrific experience - I can't wait to see the photos from your upcoming dressage show with Ollie!

[Off-Topic: I was applying stuff to my face this morning, when to my great amusement, I suddenly realized that my Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion smelled a whole lot like Lexol. This shouldn't surprise anyone; after all, both products are used for softening animal hide! ;-) Nevertheless, I would like to think my skin is slightly less tanned than your average saddle or bridle. I apply sunscreen religiously. I've already had one basal cell carcinoma removed and a bunch of biopsies done so I make every effort to be careful (even if my brothers are fond of calling me Casper on the beach). I do wonder why I've never noticed this similarity before... I think it's because my current bottle of DD is rather old, so the scent must be stronger. Anyway, I thought this was just hilarious and I will enjoy my facial routine all the more! Not sure if I should mention it to the nice lady at the Clinique counter, though, next time I go shopping?? :-)]

Monday, November 14, 2011

Behind The Scenes At The National

Following the Grand Prix, I was not ready to go home yet. It was time to do some exploring, specifically of the Arena and any other interesting area I could get into... like, say, the barns. I had little hope of accomplishing the latter since I figured there'd be an Exhibitor pass required, but I thought I'd scope things out anyway.

But first I had some other urgent business: what was for sale here? Checking out vendor booths is always lots of fun for this dedicated window shopper. I figured if the prices of stuff I liked were anything like they were at the WEG I wasn't going to buy a thing (e.g. $25 for a commemorative t-shirt), but it never hurts to look. I started out on a circuit around the Arena. It really is a nice setup, with a wide concourse just made for exhibits around the whole place.

My faux-shopping plans were derailed in a hurry, though, when I quickly stumbled upon a hospitality area set up for the VIPs. There were a number of presumably well-heeled individuals present in black tie and they needed to be wined and dined while watching the show. Apparently they were willing to include the riders in this little bash post-GP because I spotted a couple right away. I am not embarking on a career as a paparazzo anytime soon, since these blurry pictures were the best I could do (without looking like some kind of weird stalker - I'm not shy but taking someone's picture when they don't know it is icky). I kind of recognized both of these guys but I do not know who they are. If YOU do, please tell me!
Balding rider in blue jacket w/ burgundy lapels is the one who caught my eye, but I guess the fellow in the red vest was also a competitor.
This guy was young, good-looking and holding court for a bevy of attractive females. A rough life, indeed!
A local fine art gallery had some works on display in this VIP area for sale. I literally gasped aloud when I spotted this group of pencil sketches:

Holy cow! I instantly recognized these as original illustrations by CW Anderson, one of my most favorite horse artists ever. These were done for the book "The Blind Connemara" which I probably read a half-dozen times, just like all of his books. Boy, would I like to own something like this... but at $6,000 for the set, I guess it's not going to be anytime soon (try ever). There was also this print, which I thought was interesting because it reminded me of the fabled "dogs" painting that inspired the Jacksons to name Barbaro and his brothers after them (not sure why, because I've never even seen that painting!):

There were a number of people selling jewelry, but further along the concourse I came across this vendor's wares. Ooh la la... I could just go crazy over this stuff.

It was truly the nicest equestrian jewelry I think I've ever seen; all the proportions were just right (a frequent error in this genre, I've noticed) and the details were perfect. This is my dream pendant:

Those are tiny diamonds set across the tread. I like English stirrup motif pieces because they aren't generic "horse" jewelry. I also like things with horse shoes, for example, and have several, but a Fillis iron clearly proclaims the wearer as an English rider and I think that's cool. Right now I have a cheapo Finish Line brand gold-filled stirrup pendant which is starting to show silver edges. Some day I hope to replace it with the real deal but with the price of gold skyrocketing, that, too will have to wait (and of course I'd rather be financing a real horse, anyway). (I wonder if the gold chain is included for $655? I didn't ask because unless he was going to give me a 90% discount I couldn't afford it anyway, LOL).

I went past a restaurant that was part of the complex and it was really hopping with people and more riders. I spotted Richard Spooner near the front of the throng. This affair was clearly the big apres-Grand Prix event. Lots of throbbing heads on Sunday morning, I would bet!

While I was wandering around, the Arena jump crew was busy taking down the GP fences and dragging the ring. All of this was done at warp speed. Seriously, there were about 25 crew people and they were unbelievably fast and efficient. The dudes driving the tractors were hauling around at about 30 mph, neatly avoiding the people on foot. I would have been petrified to be in there but this group operated like a well-oiled machine.

The Maclay contenders were then allowed in to exercise their horses:

And look what I found on display? The very thing they were all aiming to win. What a gorgeous trophy!

Solid sterling silver. Used to be lots of horse events handed out silver - I have a few itty-bitty plates myself - but not anymore! Glad the Maclay still does it right.
It was time to head out so I returned to my car and drove out of the Arena parking lot. As I said, I figured I couldn't get near the barns. So imagine my surprise when I noticed as I cruised slowly by that there didn't seem to be any security checkpoints near them (located very close behind the Arena). Hmmm... I parked again (in the media area, which was largely deserted by then) and headed that way. Nobody stopped me. I was wearing an equestrian-type jacket and my paddock boots with some khaki pants, so I guess I kind of looked the part - maybe that helped? But actually there was simply no one around. It was kind of spooky, to tell you the truth. Usually barns are full of activity and it was only about a half hour/45 minutes since the GP had wrapped up. Where were the grooms? How come some stranger was allowed near what I'm sure was some very costly horseflesh?

Soon, I was standing in a barn and checking out this fine fellow and his neighbor:

I'm pretty sure both these horses competed in the Grand Prix. Why else would they be standing in such massively-bedded stalls, with heavily-poulticed legs? Both of them also had buckets of concentrates that they were not eating. One held grain, and the other what I would assume was a mash or else soaked grain. It made me sad that they weren't eating. Again, why were these guys by themselves? All I can say is if it was MY horse, I would have been hovering nearby to see if he cleaned up his after-work meal. They both looked completely disinterested and ignored me to boot.
Bran mash? 
The barns and stalls were really nice here and obviously well-maintained. I left the barn where these two horses were (not just without human company, there weren't even any other horses there in the whole rest of the structure) and went into another. A few more horses were to be found, also sans any human presence. I said hello to them and then lit out for my car before anyone did come around and question me. The whole experience was a bit unsettling; I mean, even here at home at our C-rated shows there are always people in the barns. I guess the quality of the parties at the NHS was a lot better, and everyone was out whooping it up? I just know if I was an unscrupulous sort or God forbid, a representative of PETA, I could have caused a lot of mayhem when nobody was looking!

Here's another horse resting in his spacious stall:
And last but not least, a close look at the National Horse Show ribbons:
While these are pretty nice, and do have the medallions in the middle, would you believe this type is ALL the winner of the Grand Prix got?? No neck ribbon, no extra-long regular ribbon. I'll tell you, I may not agree with everything/a lot of what the gaited horse people get up to, but by golly, they DO know how to properly adorn their winners! Come on, hunt seat world, get a clue: people actually do like all that folderol. It makes for attractive stabling areas if nothing else. :-)

I finally left the KHP and headed back to my friend's house. I had a fun excursion planned for Sunday morning...

 Next Up: My Visit To A Fellow Blogger's Barn!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Alltech National Horse Show $250,000 Grand Prix

I arrived in KY late Saturday afternoon, at my friend's house where I was staying. I had a little time to socialize with her and eat dinner before heading out to the Kentucky Horse Park (KHP) for the Grand Prix, which was scheduled to start at 7:00 PM. By the time I slid into a seat in the Arena at about 6:50 (you could sit wherever you wanted) you could say I was pretty excited...

First of all, let me back up. Just entering KY makes me happy. The closer I get to Lexington, the happier I get: you start seeing beautiful farms several miles out. My head is on a swivel. It's like I'm playing a video game: Horse! Horse! Horse! There's another one! Horse! Horsehorsehorse! Driving past the KHP itself (my friend lives at the next exit, five miles up I-75 but only a mile as the crow flies from the actual boundary of the Park) I'm practically bouncing off my seat. I saw all the cars in the parking lot at the Alltech Arena, and could hardly wait to join them. Last year at the WEG I had no reason to go in the Arena, so I'd never even seen it.

On my way in the door, I bought this. Rarely have I been in more of a hurry to dig $5 out of my wallet. Just the sight of the program practically brought tears to my eyes: it was true, I was actually back at the National Horse Show, for the first time in some 30-odd years.
(Doesn't hurt that it's a grey horse, either)
Here's the wondrous sight that awaited me:
Many more people showed up after this. Apparently the attendance was lower than the organizers would have liked, but I thought it was a decent crowd.
It was BEAUTIFUL. By far, the very nicest horse show facility I've ever seen. I don't think there was a bad seat in the house, for starters. I mostly stayed in this area, but went to a couple different vantage points during the proceedings. The footing looked to be super as well which is always a primary consideration for riders (JB, I'm thinking of a certain show in "our book," where they simply threw down tanbark over a wooden floor...).  The jumps were all beautifully constructed and immaculate. In fact, I actually saw the jump crew wiping down the poles!

Before the class started there were a variety of introductory events. A chorale group sang the National Anthem beautifully, albeit at deafening volume (I had to put a finger in one ear and I wasn't alone. The next day I actually fled to the Ladies Room to escape their performance :-)). Dr. Pearse Lyons, founder of Alltech, gave a little speech (between the WEG and this show the company has done its level best to educate me about just what it is they do, but I profess to willfully ignoring them - sorry!). The President of the NHS, Mason Phelps, also spoke but not about his garish orange pants. And then there was George. Yes, THAT George (Morris), chef d'equipe of the US show jumping team, who talked about the importance of supporting the United States Equestrian Federation. I felt as though I'd done my part since I'd paid the full admission fee of $30, half of which was going to the USEF.

Here's the course map for the GP:
My photo above is taken from in front of Fences #2 and #7a
And here are the entrants. I think that, like me, you will see just a few names you recognize from the showjumping world:
I was psyched! I had expected a bunch of great riders to show up since it was such big money (winner got $77,000), but was elated to find Spooner, Margie, Jessica Springsteen (her dad was there, but I never saw him :-), Farrington, Laura K, Skelton, Lauren H., Charlie Jayne, Brianne Goutal, Minikus, and Rodrigo as the ones I knew of. Oh, and I assumed that Nicholas Dello Joio is the offspring of Norman, who I remember seeing as a kid at the NHS. Nice turn of the wheel! I was especially tickled to see Brianne and Jessica, past Maclay winners, since they are so young and relatively new to the showjumping scene.

This course proved to be a real heartbreaker for a bunch of the riders, especially the final fence, which quickly was dubbed "Unlucky #13" by the announcer. Many a horse navigated the rest of the jumps just fine only to bring down a rail at the last gasp. The triple combination, a traditional slayer of good jumper rounds, also brought its share of woes, and I think that having to gun the horses through that and then immediately take back for the turn to #13 was the cause of trouble at the latter. A lot of the horses looked flat over it.

I took quite a few videos, but unfortunately I discovered that due to their quality (phone records in HD, according to Spousal Tech Support, which makes a difference) it takes a looooong time for them to load on YouTube. Nonetheless, I present for your enjoyment, Richard Spooner's first round ride on Cristallo. I'm extra-glad I caught them because they were the very first pair to go clear:
I had heard he was an excellent horseman and seeing him in person did not disprove that. Cristallo appeared to be a happy and well-trained animal; you know it's a good round when they make it look "easy!" Other riders did not demonstrate such good equitation. For example, I really didn't care for the Russian woman's (#97) way of sitting down too early over fences, but the horse persevered and their only fault was for time. Others seemed rougher and not as "at one" with their mounts. On the other hand, the recent Big Eq background definitely showed in the two Maclay girls; both had lovely position in the air.

Here's a nice photo of Jessica taking the Keeneland fence, #1:
Photo by Shawn McMillen
Unfortunately, Brianne Goutal was one of the two fallers in this class. She seemed to struggle a bit throughout and when she and Ralvesther were approaching the triple I knew things weren't looking good. Sure enough, the horse stopped in front of 12c and Brianne came off. But what a graceful exit - it was like she merely stepped down, landing perfectly on her feet with zero drama and still holding the reins. Interestingly, the only other fall, by a US rider named Sarah Tredennick, also came at 12c. She attempted the whole combo again after a refusal. The second time, with another refusal, she fell and landed hard on her back. I was rather dismayed to see her Charles Owen GR8 helmet pop right off her head and roll away. Ugh... for that much money I want the darn thing to at least stay on. She did get right up and she and horse appeared to be okay, so that was good.

As far as the other "name" riders, here's how they fared in Round 1:
- Margie Engle: Went clear on her pretty grey named Indigo :-)
- Kent Farrington: I LOOOOOVED his horse, a stunning dapple grey who was also a gorgeous jumper, so lofty and careful; sadly, they had rails at first and last for 8 faults
- Nicholas Dello Joio: Probably a green horse, 15 faults, but perfect through the triple on second attempt
- Laura Kraut: This pair positively ripped around the arena, and he had his knees up to his eyeballs, but 8 faults
- Nick Skelton: Yet another nice-looking and acting grey who went clear in excellent form
- Lauren Hough: A very hot horse. Lauren sensibly retired after just a couple jumps, having had a bad "sit-down" during a turn
- Charlie Jayne: LOVED this little bay mare (I think), Athena, who reminded me of Touch of Class and did great until #13 - 4 faults
- Todd Minikus: Not their night, 8 faults
- Rodrigo Pessoa: He and Let's Fly had a rail at fence #2, I believe, and then after a few more jumps and another rail, Rodrigo pulled up and exited the ring. I was very disappointed as I'd especially wanted to see him, but I guess he knew what was best for the horse and I certainly admire him for that
-  McLain Ward: CRAZY hot horse (not even going to try and type his name, hah!), 4 faults

Other rounds of note were Paulo Santana of Brazil, riding Taloubet (clearly of the Baloubet line, I would think) and Christine McCrea of the US, riding Avenir. The former horse had an unbelievable kick in his hind end. They only scored four faults but I guarantee I'd be off between his ears over a tiny fence. Unbeknownst to me until this night, Christine was the Individual Gold Medalist at the recent Pan American games (our team also won Gold) on this horse, and I could sure see why: they are a beautiful, beautiful pair. All went well for them until, you guessed it, Unlucky #13. That completely stunk.

Five riders made it back for the jumpoff: Spooner, Margie, Jessica, a guy (!) named Harrie Smolders from the Netherlands, and Skelton. Here's Richard Spooner, not nicknamed the "Master of Faster" for nothing:
Photo by Molly Sorge, Chronicle of the Horse
And here's Nick Skelton, on Carlo 273:
Photo by Molly Sorge, Chronicle of the Horse
In the end, only these two went clear again... but Spooner won by just fractions of a second: 37.97 seconds versus 38.33. Skelton said afterwards he added one stride where he shouldn't have and that made the difference. Jessica had four faults, as did the other two second-round qualifiers, but was fastest of that group so she placed third. She was delighted to keep such good company and her mare seemingly was excited, too, judging by the number of rears she put in during the awards ceremony! :-) I'm sure that $40,000 or so that they won will come in handy for her college tuition (she's at Duke, I was pleased to learn), LOL.

Here's my whole score sheet (the "V" meant I took video, by the way, and I'm going to try and get some more up on YouTube):

Some notes about tack/attire during this event:
- I saw the usual assortment of interesting head gear on these jumpers; mechanical hacks with/without bits, complicated bits, etc. On the other hand, I also saw at least a couple in plain snaffles.
- Spooner appeared for the awards presentation with Cristallo wearing draw reins, of all things. They certainly weren't on during the jumping so I guess he thought he needed more control at that point? I really don't know. All the horses were spooky during the awards, presumably because of the TV lights/cameras, but I thought this tack change quite interesting.
- Some of the riders sported show coats with shiny brass buttons front and back. This amused me because I have a show coat, ca. 1978, with similar buttons, and I thought those had gone the way of the dinosaurs.
- All/most of the riders were wearing navy blue sashes and I never could figure out why. I must need a new prescription because during this event and especially during the Maclay I had a tough time reading numbers, never mind if there was writing on the sashes.

Watching this Grand Prix was terrifically exciting and I was just so darn glad to be there. Certainly our Grand Prix held here in St. Louis is nowhere near the same scale: these were top-notch horses, largely capable of competing at the highest level of the sport. Only a couple horses really demolished the course (23 and 20 faults), and I thought it was tough but fair. I will be looking for some of these at the next Olympics, that's for sure!

Next Up: Behind The Scenes At The National

Many Broken Hearts

Armbands being worn by GP riders and jump crew at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto, this week
Hickstead (1996-2011)

My post on the National Horse Show Grand Prix will have to wait for a few more minutes: I simply must honor the memory of Hickstead. I learned of his passing on Sunday afternoon while watching the Maclay, via a friend's post on Facebook. I could hardly believe my eyes. WHAT??!? How could this be? It would simply be too cruel to his rider and the spectators in Italy for the great horse to go crashing down in full view. Alas, that is precisely what happened, and the autopsy has now revealed that an aortic aneursym was responsible. No one could have known of this defect, and many sad analogies can certainly be made regarding the courage and fire of the little stallion who, in a way, simply had his gallant heart give out.

Someone else has already written a remarkable tribute piece that I believe sums up how most of us feel about this tragic loss. Here is the link to the article, appropriately titled "Wrong Ending." Exactly. There is also this YouTube video, which someone put together after Eric Lamaze and Hickstead won their Olympic gold medal. I am sure there are and will be other tributes but I thought this was lovely, with very appropriate music (my only beef is with the title - let's remember who else won that medal, please).

I can't help noticing the wonderful equitation and peerless form of the horse - and look at the AIR over that enormous fence!
- Photo by Nancy Jaffer
The following photo, I think, sums up the relationship between Eric and his mount. They were truly partners in every sense of the word, and even non-horsey people would have to admit that the relationship they shared was palpable and unique. Like all the best equestrians, Eric knew that it was his privilege to be on his back and merely exhibit the magic that was Hickstead. One needs only to point to this horse whenever someone questions the willingness of horses to participate in sport. This, I believe, should be our one consolation: Hickstead died doing what he loved. Rest well across the Rainbow Bridge, O Mighty One.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Trip to the Bluegrass '11

Whew.... some of you already know what I was up to this past weekend, and I have also mentioned here where I was going. I went to "Mecca," a.k.a. Lexington, KY! I am under strict orders to hurry up and blog about my experiences, so I'm posting today simply to let you know what's coming. I am too darn tired at the moment to do much of anything else - pretty much operating "punch drunk" after seven hours of driving yesterday and then five hours of sleep last night when I was too wired from the unaccustomed coffee - and I also have to sort through the 200+ photos and videos I took. There would have been even more photos and video but I ran out of disk space on my iPhone. It's okay, I got the important stuff!

I am planning to write about my trip from A - Z (remember that...). Here are the main events:

- $250,000 Alltech National Horse Show Grand Prix
- Visit to a fellow blogger's barn to meet her OTTB boys
- ASPCA Maclay National Horsemanship Finals
- Visit to a Very Famous Equine Retirement Farm, where I met a horse who made me cry, a lot
- Visit to a Very Famous TB Breeding/Racing Farm (think recent Derby winner!)
- Visit to a Sort of Famous and Totally Responsible TB Breeding/Racing Farm

Do you think I crammed enough into 48 hours, or what???? ;-)

Just to whet your appetites, here are a few photos, with some hints about where I was/who I saw. See if you can guess!


Ok, that's all for today but hopefully I can get started with the real blogging tomorrow!