Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Eventer Husband's Coming of Age

We are lucky enough to live in a mecca of eventing (which my husband hears me blather on about all the time). We have Kent School 10 minutes away, Millbrook and Fitch's Corner less than 30 minutes away, Town Hill and Riga Meadow less than an hour away, and a myriad of other events in the 2-3 hour distance range.

Husband is not as impressed as I am. Clearly, this is a problem. It is my mission in life to remedy that.

Next weekend, one of the most prestigious events in Area I will take place - the Millbrook Horse Trials. Advanced through Beginner Novice....paradise. And it's a shorter drive to get to Millbrook than it is to get to our local grocery store.

It's all about priorities, folks.

I'm practically swooning over the fact that I can share this experience with my new-to-eventing husband, to answer all of his questions, to walk the course (filled with perfumed flowers and wine stations) holding hands....

Nah. I'm just excited to scare him to death.

See, here's my plan. I'm going to get him up in the wee hours with promises of egg sandwiches, just in time to watch the Advanced riders run cross country. I may have to bring a muzzle or one of those "Quiet!" signs they use for golf to hold up when a rider comes through, because I can absolutely hear him bellowing, "Holy &^%$!"

After watching that, how can any course that I ride seem that intimidating?

When I started searching through the Omnibus for events to enter with Zeus this year, he asked questions that made complete sense to him. But me? Well, I laughed hysterically over most of them.

For example:
Husband: So you have to do all three phases?
Me: Yes.
Husband: In one day?
Me: Sometimes.
Husband: Can't you just do the jumping part? I mean, the dressage doesn't seem all that fun.
Me: You have to ride dressage before you can get to the jumping.
Husband: Well, if you don't like dressage can you just drop your score? Like, best out of three?
Me: Oh man. This is going to take awhile.

Or, the Friday before Riga Meadow....
Me: So tomorrow, I have to teach a lesson, ride, walk the course, then bathe and braid Zeus and if we can squeeze in grocery shopping...
Husband: What? Did you say....walk the course? We have to drive there two days in a row?!
Me: Yes. You walk the cross country course the day before the event.
Husband: Can't you just look at the numbers on the jumps as you're galloping?
Me: Um, no. You need to know where you're going.
Husband: Do I need to walk it too? Like, in case you forget it or something?

And the finale, as I'm out at the barn at 10 PM, braiding:
Husband: Wow. That's going to take a long time.
Me: Why?
Husband: Your horse has a neck like a giraffe. See you in the morning!

All this being said, I can't tell you how proud I am of that city guy I married. He has become a fantastic groom, is interested in the sport, humors me when I say, "Come over here and check out this video from Eventing Nation!", and (wait, you're going to be way impressed), can identify Mark Todd (that tall guy), William Fox-Pitt (that really tall guy from England), Boyd Martin and Phillip Dutton.

So if you happen to see a blonde woman waving one of these around the cross country course at Millbrook next Saturday...

Yeah. We're those people.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Reflections on Riga

My last horse trial took place in September of 1999. I was 19, and injured in a freak fall during Stadium Jumping. My horse at the time, Kismet (show name Celtic Prince), was a horse with tons of scope and talent. After the fall, the surgeries and physical therapy that followed told me that I was doing Kismet a disservice by keeping him for myself - he could really bring joy to someone else, so we sold him.

When Matt and I moved out of NYC and bought our little farm, I thought getting back to the sport of Eventing was a bit of a pipe dream - my horse, Midnight, was my retired eventer. I would occasionally look at Thoroughbred rescue websites and daydream about a youngster I could bring through the ranks of the sport, much like I did with Midnight, Storm, Kismet and others. When we suddenly lost Midnight and I adopted Zeus, the dream to event again was a distant, but somehow reachable goal.

So the work began - the schooling, lessons, trailering around to little shows and various places so Zeus would learn that he left our barn, did some fun stuff, and came back home. I knew it was time to try it again - the sport I keep up with daily on Eventing Nation. The precise movements of dressage, the rush of adrenaline of cross country, and the execution and fine tuning of show jumping.

I chose Riga Meadow because it was relatively close to home and is known for being a great course for first-time horses and riders. There were still a few questions and tough jumps on course, but overall, it was very well done and it was clear the officials and staff created a course that would be a great experience for horse and rider.

More than anything else, being back in the eventing community was like coming home. I saw familiar faces, exchanged a few hugs with long lost friends, and introduced my new-to-eventing husband to all of these people who knew me so well in my teen years. While walking the cross country course the day before, I saw some volunteers watering all of the flowers and plants surrounding the XC jumps, and went out of my way to tell them the course looked great and to thank them for all their hard work. The response I got with a smile was, "So, you've worked an event before, huh? Thanks!"

Everything about the day reminded me why I fell in love with Eventing. From the bit-checker at dressage who spoke softly to my frazzled youngster, to the TD (the incomparable Ray Denis) who emailed me personally after the event and all of the staff and volunteers who made the day possible, everyone was so friendly and happy to help, even after standing out in a field in 90+ degree temps!

Next to us in the trailer area was a woman and her husband, with a little chestnut horse who didn't mind Zeus' spastic moments. We chit-chatted with them, commenting on our color choices for cross country, wishing each other luck, congratulating each other after our successful rounds, discussing the course and - what else - our horses. I don't know their names, but I felt as though we met as strangers, and left as friends. I'll know if I see a little chestnut wearing lime and turquoise running cross country, I'll be sure to cheer for them!

These are the people who make my sport so much fun. This is the sense of community and support that I've missed so much. I'm grateful for the 12 year hiatus from eventing, because it makes me appreciate everything so much more.

So to the sport of Eventing, I say to you.....I'm back.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Show Must Go On

Sooooo, it's been awhile. I've been a little busy. We have a new horse living with us at TMF (more on that later), and the past few weeks have been spent preparing Zeus for his very first horse trial. Which took place on Sunday. It was an event sanctioned by the USEA, the US Eventing Association, at a farm in upstate Connecticut.

The day was hot. Really hot. However, Zeus didn't know this. He let everyone know that he was born and raised in Florida, so heat in the Northeast means nothing to him!

From the moment we unloaded him from the trailer until we pulled out at the end of the day, Zeus did not. Stop. Moving. He walked for the entire day. We wanted him to graze, and relax, and he just couldn't possibly graze when there were so many exciting things to see!

After a bit of walking, some spongeing off (because of the heat and the walking) and more walking, it was time to get him ready for the first phase - Dressage. Getting him ready was an exercise in itself (literally) because he wouldn't. Stop. Moving. So Matt would hold him and I would dance around with all of his gear and basically toss it on a moving target. Getting his bridle on was a two-person event, but after a few attempts, we were tacked up and ready to go!
His dressage test wasn't spectacular because he was a bit unfocused and definitely frazzled by the atmosphere, but I expected as much for his first event. Our one major faux pas was during our final halt at the end of the test. It didn't happen. Zeus wouldn't. Stop. Moving. Oopsy. We'll try that again another day.

I should add that the judge, Rick Pearson, was a fantastic judge. For Dressage, you get your test scores back with comments from the judge. Most judges would just say "tense" or "not straight" in their comments. Mr. Pearson actually wrote constructive comments that I can practice, hone, and improve my next test. He also added that Zeus was an "Attractive horse and very capable!"

Well Mr. Pearson, thank you, and just wait. "Capable" will be an understatement when you see us again!

After a quick turnaround, we were on to the second phase of the event - Stadium Jumping. I'd walked the course the night before and I'm glad I did, because I wouldn't have had the time to do it the day of the competition. The course had a great flow and I thought Zeus could definitely handle it.
He jumped everything like a gazelle, without fear or uncertainty. We had a clear round - no jumping or time penalties! As a matter of fact, Zeus thought the course was downright easy. While we were jumping everything, he decided to be a tourist at the same time - he'd look left, crane his neck to the right...."Oh look! There's a horse over there!" ...."Oh wow, an ambulance with people standing around it!"....."Oh happy day, here's a jump!"....and he'd bound over the jump with ease. I think I had the only horse in the entire competition who barely looked at the fences he was jumping, because he was so busy looking at everything else.
After yet another short break, we geared up for the third and final phase of the day - Cross Country! I knew we'd have the most fun during Cross Country (after all, this is why eventers actually do this sport!), and although there were jumps that Zeus had never seen before and looked a little scary, I thought he'd handle this phase the best.

I was right.
Here we are, off to the start of XC - and the next 6 minutes were spent galloping across fields and over solid fences - a few moments of complete unity and trust between horse and rider.

He was incredible.
Every jump, every question that faced us as a team, Zeus rose to the occasion and trusted me enough to not steer him wrong or overface him. He soared over every single obstacle with ease and confidence.

We didn't end up getting a ribbon for the day - no award, no trophy. But I came home with a horse who, at the end of the day, had a blast doing the sport that I love. That's the ultimate reward. He's only going to get better from here, and we are already looking ahead to his next event on September 10th.

In the meantime, we'll go out and practice some more and have some fun exploring, trail riding and hunter pacing.

Our successful day wouldn't have happened (or gone nearly as smoothly) without the help of some people: Margaret Korda and her horse, Logan Go Braugh, who walked alongside us before our Dressage test to keep Zeus calm and to give him some assurance; Carla Lord, who assisted as a groom and running to get my dressage scores and doubling as a nurse, making sure I stayed hydrated; Pete Calabrese and Anissa Zellman, who lent their hands when needed and let us borrow their Monster Truck to haul Zeus safely; and to my parents, Mom and Dad, who raced back from a family visit in New Hampshire to give me an encouraging word and for being there - it meant so much to me!

The ultimate thank you goes to my wonderful, amazing and should-be-sainted husband Matt, who held Zeus while he walked...and walked....and walked...and didn't lose patience in the heat and sun. I don't know what I did right to deserve you, but I am so grateful!

And so is Zeus. Who finally stopped moving when we got home, yawned, and immediately took a good, long nap.