Sunday, December 29, 2013

Hope is a four lettered word

2013 is over. I can't say I'm unhappy to see it go, it was a tough year for a lot of reasons, but it also
showed that we've come a long way.

The holiday time for me has always been about downtime, the horses aren't pushed, I can pretty much have a glass of wine and take time to say thanks and plan the new year.

There's a lot to be thankful for- I'm thankful for supportive owners and clients who've been very supportive and supplying the equine talent and funding to start achieving goals. I'm thankful for my team: Dr. Laurie Metcalf, Jake Burdine, Dr. Lark Carol, Dr. Kimberly Tummlin, Doug Leavitt and a host of others who keep us all running on track.

I'm incredibly thankful to my owners who have stepped up to the status change to keep me mounted on quality up and coming horses: Noble Spirit Farm, Sunshine Meadows, Rosanna and Carey Gage; Wendy and Kelly Spencer and a few more who are coming up . Without them I think honestly I would still be bopping around not really doing much. They make me better, not just as a person, but as a horseman.

A big thank you goes to Alfredo, JJ and a number of others, who got me out of a slump. I really look forward to continuing the relationship and growing the team with some really passionate individuals who are in my corner and want to be apart of everything.

My goals on paper for 2013 weren't overly ambitious, but they involved hard work. I took the year to be a building year, I did a grand total of two shows this year, both I wish I would have forgotten, but for the most part they were apart of the learning curve that is being an under-30 rider.

1. Finish Silver, start the Gold.
I completed my Silver, in 2012 I had a mis-scored test that I didn't catch until after I left the show grounds. There wasn't a way to correct it so, I had to wait until 2013 to finish out my one fourth level test (seriously fourth level) and get my medal in January. I didn't start my Gold at all, I took a year off with Sinari to let her down after three hard years of campaigning and training. We went out all of twice (January and September) with so-so results. I look forward to getting back on the campaign trail again.

We will go out with some more frequency in 2014- but will be picky about shows for her. We are on our last two years of showing, and at 15, it's hard find an excuse to keep her campaigning continuously without being unfair. The focus also shifted to the younger horses, developing them to find the next heir apparent. Which is hard, because a horse that steps into those shoes is going to have a lot of expectations.

2. Be training I2/GP
We can roll through about 65-70 percent of the sequences of the GP at this point. It's no where near show ready. Still need to put on one's, a firmer p&p sequence, and clean up a bunch of other things.

3. Find investment horses.
Did this and a little more. Initially, Reba's Song was an investment back up horse. However, she showed her preference to jump and with Anna Kate did exceptionally well for her first year showing (I think winning a major national title is cause for celebration). The Spencers purchased Danzador MSM and put me onboard as rider/partner. Flemmiro SSM is also her breeder's investment for the long haul as well. There are also a few more coming in as client sales horses and potentially a few big horses as well.

4. Devote two weeks of intense training per quarter
With the notable absence of an integral team member by May, I had to scramble hard to find a solid pair of eyes on the ground that took us at least somewhat seriously. We were left floating really until July, until things changed and I found people who not only clicked with me but really made a huge change in what I do. I've now added one more set of eyes and started utilizing technology to keep up with things.

5. Continue to grow the business and remain fiscally solvent.
The business grew and had some ups and downs. There was a lot of change in dynamics and how things developed. I'm now the tour manager for Christoph, I'm developing clinic locations and the clientele has expanded. I got to work with William Fox Pitt and I look forward to expanding my network with eventers and getting to know them a bit better.

1. Start Gold. Be schooling the majority of GP.
2. Have national rankings on each horse. End up in the year end awards for All Breeds and at minimum be qualified for regionals.
3. Increase fitness (human and horse).
4. Expand clients, horses in training, and investments that are capable, at minimum of shining on the national stage, also continue to remain fiscally solvent.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

I'm dreaming of White Fences

The weather has been nothing short of disastrous.

The area has been nicely coated in a crystal casing of ice, doused with snow, and thawed and refrozen several times to make for very interesting travel conditions.
The horses have also started to get cabin fever as friends start making their way down to Florida for the season I'm slowly going just as insane. 

Literally our area has become a desolate polar paradise with little chance to escape until the ice breaks up and the sun starts shining consistently.

Sinari is an old pro and is used to the winter blues routines. She's wintered many times in the north. But  still can get very fresh under saddle. But for her, it's manageable and cool to have that focused, amplified energy to work with. It's literally refreshing for me as well to just sit there and play director. But even then managing her day-to-day energy outlet of a pony coming back into fitness can be hairy at best. Keeping her from stiffening up is also become easier with Back On Track products (hock boots and a sheet). 

Danzador is still adjusting to things a little. While he's used to being confined for a few days, he's not used to the swinging temperatures in the area. The first ride during the big drop was hairy, he was electric and while it was great to have the energy his concentration wasn't focused. He also physically isn't mature enough to keep loose, so we stepped up the body work on him. The next few days he's come in and has went better, but for the most part things have been about stretching and keeping things low-key. He has a show this weekend, which while I want to go I'm not looking forward to. 

Also with the downtime for Danzador, we started adjusting some of the support systems he's getting. He already receives regular chiro and massage, but with all the development he's undergoing he needed more support with shoes. 

His feet are solid and he's done alright without them, but he gets a little tentative in his body when he can't get traction, combine that with a natural propensity to tighten the back it's stagnated some development. Already I can see and feel a difference. His balance is lower, he's more confident and his overstride has already gained at least a few inches. 

The weather has also screwed with my schedule.

My last full clinic has been canceled, and I'm busy applying for several more to keep busy for the new year. Show organizers haven't put out their prize lists, so I can't really start picking and choosing where I want all of us to go. It's literally the dead time which I dread and enjoy all at once. 

The last cancellation left me with an open date and around a horse show time. With both horses actually feeling good, I tossed both of them in at last minute thanks to a generous secretary making space. The weather is decided to add value to the horse show by going from 40 and sunny to 28 and freezing rain. 

Then there's a huge step down from FEI.

It feels odd to be doing training level again. Especially on a baby that's pretty fit (ps. it's never a good time to show babies, you just have to go) and a test that's a fraction as long as the one you're used to.  I'm used to seeing two pages of test, a movement-by-movement breakdown, and now I had 14 grouped movements to get a good score on a four year old that is still physically developing, in a cold arena. 

I'm exceptionally proud of him in what could have been easily a mental undoing of a lot of horses. He was high, and cold, but the minute the bridle went on he started to click in, he warmed up great in a busy arena with kids trying to run into him, he gave me great balance, and minus stopping and staring at things, he thought it was the most fun he had in a long time.

I'm not happy with the score, because it felt appropriate. But the comments were somewhat valid.

There are things that can be improved off the bat- like the drunken sailor line, general crookedness and tenseness that comes from lack of showing. Mentally he was half in the zone and half baby ADD.

He does need to lengthen his top line out. But, I also know that comes from building carrying power to lengthen the entire frame. His main avoidance has (and possibly always will be) been behind the vertical, it comes from me asking for the balance and power. I honestly don't really think he's going to be a world beating training level horse, he's going to start to shine around second level. But until then he's going to keep going out at little shows to get experience until his mediums/lengthenings and lateral work are confirmed, which hopefully will be spring.

Otherwise, I'm proud of both of them. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

She's buying the stairway to heaven

A few weeks ago I vaguely explained what's happening with the herd and how my life is changing.
Then William Fox-Pitt, convention,  and a number of other things took over my life and I had to put introspection aside and do what I do.

A few weeks ago, I left my regular paying, 9-5 corporate non-equine related job. I left the security of knowing that despite good pay, a 401k, stock options and other various, great things in the normal world, I was unhappy. I survived six years of a job that had a crazy mentality and demanded total unrelenting obedience.

I'm happy that I had that opportunity to be there, it's given me a huge amount of perspective that I wouldn't have gained otherwise. It gave me a background for business which has become invaluable. It's helped me expand my skills to deal with a lot of situations. It was a good resource and the team I worked with was one of the best in the world.

But in the end, this was a hobby to them and no amount of bargaining or discussing could change this. So, after the last management change, the talk of unionizing and facing down another winter, I finally said I couldn't do it anymore without mentally becoming undone.

In the meantime, I'm still continuing the clinics, which has been a good thing overall. But there's one final step I'm taking and that's going Professional.

"Going pro" has been on my radar for sometime. It's not something I necessarily wanted to do until I was totally confirmed at Grand Prix with at least appearances at major venues. I enjoy the sport but lately I've been pushing the defining boundaries of what it means to be an Amateur.

I still have a slightly romanticized version of the ideal professional who not only scores exceptionally well, but has a balance between teaching, riding, business and the normal life. They have that pipeline of horses that can sell somewhat easily in the market to buy up or take the capital and run, have committed lovely clients who want to progress in their various paths, a workmanlike barn and an overall love of the game.

While I have many of those attributes, I still struggle with the idea of playing in a broader field, and fear doing what you love may lead to burnout. There's also the fear of becoming apart of the crowd.

In short, aside from the USEF rule book, there is no how-to human resources cook book of guidelines that gives you a path of what to do next. For a lot of us, there are still, and always be questions of how to do this without killing yourself. But I know now that I can't wait around until Grand Prix and to be treated seriously you have to change.

The nice part is my herd has changed too.

In addition to Sinari, Danzador and Reba, there are going to be a few new faces.

Flemmiro SSM, by Flemmingh out of a Ferro mare will be joining the herd.  There are also a few planned breedings in the works to keep things growing in the right way.

So in 2014, with the renewal of my cards, the quality added to the herd, my Amateur status is officially done. I loved my time in this group. It's given me a huge amount of perspective of what people go through to achieve goals.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

We like to party

I did a two for one day at USEA and USDF's conventions.

I made the trek up to Ohio to at least attempt to attend Area 8 awards (missed it due to an overrun meeting) for Reba and Anna, and then jetted back down Lexington to accept my Silver in person.

It's not my first convention I went to, but it was the first time I've accepted an award on the national scene. Reba was also one of the first horses I've had to go out and just dominate, and also the first horse I haven't piloted to those ribbons, but "owned". It was a good way to end a year I'd rather forget.

Despite arriving late, I was lucky that I had friends there to hold a seat and a plate of food. My table had collectively some of the best, most revered classical trainers seated (Charles DeKnuffy, JJ Tate and Mrs. O'Connor) at it. Many of which I met for the first time, and for once in my wee existence felt really awestruck at the living history eating cake and having coffee.

I didn't expect to like many of them, many trainers on the hard-core classical path tend to be eccentric at best. But if you ever have the chance to meet Charles, he's incredibly wonderful to listen to and get to know and Mrs. O' Connor is spot on with much of her commentary.

If the night had a theme, it was education.

It is something that I feel very near and dear to as I regularly host and work alongside people who's greater motivation is to improve riding and it's understanding. To see these people, who have dedicated their lives to furthering the next generation, and being recognized for it, is cool.

It's hard to believe that 40 years ago (I've been a member about a quarter of that time) we were still competing on grass with chain arenas and education and the programs, like the L, the All Breeds, Regionals, Instructor Certification, that in were started when I was 15 or 16 years old. We  have made progress.

It was fantastic to see and hear the stories being exchanged. It was good to see old friends, and touch base with those who I do business with. Plus it just started to stoke the competitive fires for 2014.