Wednesday, 14 May 2014

May Daze

In the attempt to keep a positive spin on things (something my therapist is forever telling me to do, since I naturally default to "mild asshole/extreme sarcasm/intense self deprecation" status) I'm going to list the things in my horsey life I'm grateful for.

To get more specific....

- My amazing, kind, gifted, beautiful, sweet, long-strided, brave, honest horse.
- My incredible trainer. I am pretty sure I'm the luckiest damn person in the entire world to experience this type of extremely high quality, second-to-none training.
- My barn owners, who have gone the extra mile and back on more than one occasion to ensure my happiness and made a lot of things possible.  I am SO lucky to be with this barn, if only because of that!
- The incredible staff at my barn, at least some of whom I consider friends; we are very lucky.
- Butet saddles. Nuff said.
- The sport of showjumping, and its frustrating and ridiculous ability to constantly challenge while being perhaps the most interesting thing I've ever been involved with.
- Live streaming of Grand Prix. I would probably have expired from envy/withdrawal if these weren't available during the winter season.

OK. So now that's out of the way and I feel all squishy, on to the first day of the horse show!

Technically, it was the second day - we moved in to the show grounds yesterday.  Fortunately for us, they're located just 20 minutes from the farm, which makes the show about 35-40 minutes from my place.  It's the ideal drive, actually - enough time in the morning to wake up, inhale some coffee and rev myself up with "kick some ass" music.  Unfortunately this also usually involves me chowing down about 30 Tums and mentally riding my course 99999 times.  Which is good and bad.

Tuesday, I wandered my way out and had a great flat on Riley.  Trainer helped me out a little, giving me a few tips here and there from the back of whichever equine (they arrived in a steady parade) he happened to be sitting on.  I flatted mainly in our Wee Jumper Ring warmup and then spent some time in Grand Prix land, and even wandered over to visit a few friends hacking around in the Hunter warmup.  By the end, Riley was a tired boy - the goal for the day - and had stopped yanking my arms out.  A great preparation for Wednesday, or so I thought.

Wednesday dawned bright and early. For some reason, the organizers are insistent on putting the tiniest jumper classes at the beginning of the day (which, realistically, makes a lot of sense, but STILL) so my wakeup call was set for 6:30. It's important to note it was set for that time; despite chowing down Ambien the night before, I woke up at 3:30 AM and never did fall back asleep.  Not the ideal start to the day!  

Bearing in mind this is my first show with this trainer, I had no idea how he operated, so I hoofed down at 8:15 to walk my teeny tiny jumper course.  Trainer was loafing around at the gate, and we made our way into the ring to walk the course.

This course walk thing happened way faster than I would have liked.  I am not good at memorizing courses. I'm one of those people who has to stand in the middle after I've walked the entire thing six times and recite it about 40 times, complete with crop waving, before it permeates my memory.  Trainer had me walk all the lines (of which there were a massive total of three) then decided we were done and wandered out.  Unfortunately, this led to him sitting in his golf cart for another 10 minutes waiting for me to finish the hell up while I recited the course the aforementioned 40 times.  Let it be known, I made an Olympian wait on me. If that doesn't give you an ulcer, what will?

After arriving back at the barn, I observed my horse being tacked up more swiftly than I had ever seen by our substitute (and very French) groom, and I hustled to get my boots, helmet, spurs and gloves in order.  Then it was time to hop on my horse and hack down to the ring.

My flat warmup was okay - Riley was veeeeery forward and practically skipping around at mach 12 at the trot, then bounded into an extremely lofty canter once I thought I'd worn him down incrementally at the trot.  (Hint: I didn't.)  Monsieur Trainer took one of his young horses in first and then came back to warm me up.

My jump warmup was... not so great.  The first jump, the world's tiniest vertical, came up long and I, attempting to just go with the flow, said "okay" and went with it.  Which led to Riley landing, throwing his head down, bucking like a fiend and galloping off.  He came fairly close to getting me off, but I managed to yank his head up and carry on.  The next three fences were also fairly terrible distances and I was obviously not able to get my shit together.

"Rheeeeeeethym, paaaaace. You just need to find ze right rheeeeethym! You air too faaaast, zees jump ees tiny."
I managed to pull out my brain and dust it off at that point, and actually started to, you know, ride.  Until we started doing oxers and then I started to suck again.

"Why you are cutting ziss corner? Go into ze corner. Zen come out and make a good turn, even when there is no corner."
I have no idea what I was doing at this point since I am usually The Queen Of The Square Turn.
This also led to me doing absolutely zero to fix it and Trainer walking directly in front of the fence as I was, oh, two strides away, which was very confusing since the Assistant does that sometimes and still wants you to jump it, but since I didn't want to be solely responsible for the murder of the nation's great Olympic hope, I decided to pull up my horse.

"Youuuu are still not going in ze corner, go in ziss corner." Gesticulating toward the, duh, corner.
Me: "Oh, uh, you want me to go in the corner?"
Trainer: *mildly incredulous look* "yeeeeeeeeeesssssss"
Me: *goes to canter off, the long way*
Assistant: Why are you going that far away? Turn here. You're wasting time.
Me: "Um, my horse is really fresh... it would be nice to wear him down at least a little."
Me: *muttering under breath, whilst cantering through the stupid corner, some words not fit for retelling*
Me: Finally jumps oxer like not-a-piece-of-shit.
Me: *throws up in mouth*

This is where it got kind of interesting, at least from my perspective.  I'm one of those people who gets crippling cases of horse show nerves. So I was all turning green and tight lipped and silent and Trainer got oddly helpful.  I don't even remember exactly what happened but I remember feeling very supported by the time I made my way into the ring, where my horse proceeded to give everything the evil eye.  At Trainer's behest I trotted him through the double, the first scary line, around one of the jumps by the wall next to the scary timer, by the scary flags, by the scary gazebo, etc etc.  Then nearly ran out of time to start my course, ha ha.

I started a touch slow, under the realization that my horse was probably going to morph into an equine freight train as we went along, but this was a mild mistake since the first line was a regular six and he wasn't quite up to speed.  With a touch of leg we came out of the six the slightest bit long, which resulted in a very firm half halt before turning to jump 3 across the center of the ring, which I found a nice forward distance to.  From there it was a dog leg off your eye to a natural oxer, which we jumped absolutely beautifully (probably my favorite jump on the course, for my horse and my equitation - and, I thought, a pretty damn good emulation of Trainer's style, which is perhaps the fangirl in me but was cool to see.)  From there we went around by the timer and rolled back to a two-stride, which I got a lovely quietly forward distance to, which I needed in order to make the striding through the two (as we were still mildly under pace, by my own decision) and I was absolutely thrilled with the result.  From there we bent to a purple oxer in a seven, which Riley jumped the snot out of and which required some serious grappling with the reins on landing.  We got a vaguely tight distance in to a six stride line away from the in-gate, culminating in a one stride oxer-oxer combination.  I was very pleased with this since we were rolling right along and had to do a nice steady in the middle, which I was happy to have noticed and fixed.  From there we rolled back again to a green oxer, which rode nicely (and on the video, Riley jumped over the top of it by about two and a half feet) and then a bending line to a colorful oxer to finish.  Unfortunately I bulged out slightly too much and took his eye off it, and by the time I got it back and sighted a distance we were really tight but it was perfectly doable.  It was the only fence I kind of messed up, which I'm pretty happy with since it wasn't a massive mistake, and I felt confident in my decision to make him wait for the jump instead of going "EKKKK TAKE THE FLYER BUDDY!" and going galloping off into oblivion.

And it was probably the only course where I've come out and got "YOU DID A REALLY GOOD JOB." followed by "well you probably could have been a little more forward in that first six but oh those are your reasons so hey I'm totally happy with that good job thinking about that" and uh... well. Yeah. It was just... you know, really good.  And tomorrow I get to move up 10 centimeters to the not-quite-as-tiny jumpers! Hooray!

I practically cried upon watching my video; it's shocking, amazing and unbelievable to me how much my riding has changed in the past five months.  And I'm the hardest person *in the world* on myself. I can't believe the change and I am so unbelievably grateful for this opportunity I can hardly stand it.

The rest of the day, I slooooowly cleaned some tack, stuffed my horse to the gills with treats, and spent a lot of time gazing at gorgeous horses jumping huge (and not so huge) fences and generally had a wonderful time.

Have I mentioned I love horse showing? And what do you know, I really can't remember the last time I EVER said that.

Let's Go To A Horse Show

Today was the first horse show I've actually planned on attending in about two years.

Sure, I've gone to a few others over that period of time, but realistically? It's been about two years since I've seriously shown.  2011 was a big year; I spent 70% of the summer wandering around horse shows and enjoying the hell out of myself (while also carefully growing some ulcers...) and moving up from the 2'9" hunters to the 1.10m jumpers during the span of the season.  In 2012, my darling horse managed to tear his check ligament about ten days prior to the start of the show season, which put him (and me!) on rehab duty until October, effectively missing out on any horse shows.  In December, I purchased a new horse - a not terribly experienced 7 year old Dutch gelding who had shown to 1.15m, and had a lot of room to move up.  Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons (chief among them being his disinterest in putting up with my amateur-ness) I sat out most of the 2013 season as well.  I finally got fed up and leased a lovely, hand-holding ex-event horse for a few horse shows, which led to doing the 0.90m Olympic cycle after a few brief meltdowns about whether or not I was still capable of jumping three entire feet.

Beyond that, during the 2013 season, our head trainer - someone whom I held dear to my heart - left my barn midsummer, and we were all at loose ends under the care of the assistant. She Scotch-taped things together until it was announced... drumroll... that the barn's new head trainer would be a current Olympian.

For some reason, this dragged me from general angst and depression regarding our wonderful sport of showjumping and caused me to have a revelation, of sorts - I wanted to *be* the kind of rider that an Olympian would spend their time on.  Somehow, this evolved into "I'm going to be a Grand Prix rider, DAMMIT" and "SEND ME TO ANY FENCE, I WILL JUMP IT OR DIE TRYING." and "WEF OR BUST BITCHES!!!!"  Indeed, a far cry from where I had started four years previous, mildly interested in learning how to jump a horse, and not really caring if I ever attended another horse show.

The Olympian, who to this day intimidates the motherloving f*** out of me, despite being an incredibly nice person, spearheaded an interesting exchange of horses that led to me riding three separate equines (along with the one I still owned) over the course of about two months. Somehow - I'm still not sure how the world managed to align this one! - this ended with me going back to the horse I'd leased and shown in 2011 and rehabbed through 2012, Riley.

This wasn't an unwelcome proposition in the slightest, since I'd managed to form quite a partnership and relationship with Riley, whom I consider something of an equine soulmate.  When I first started with him, he was a green six year old who was still working on learning walk to canter departs, and we really built a great relationship with one another.

However, he'd been out on lease, and had some medical issues which required attending to.  It took a few months, and since this all occurred whilst Shiny New Trainer was off riding in Nations Cups down at the Winter Equestrian Festival, it worked out.  By the time he returned in April, we were as ready as we could be.

In the month he's been back, we've had a few pretty interesting experiences.

- A week after his return, we jumped 1.20m in a course without really even thinking about it and I went "gee, this is fun"
- This then morphed into jumping 1.35m (it was on the "out" of a six stride line, to qualify...) without really thinking about too hard about it, and going "holy SHIT that was fun"
- I managed to get my saint of a horse to dump me into a 3'6" square oxer because I LIKE TO PULL
- I managed to not die from this terrifying (seriously.) experience and live to jump a 3'6" oxer which was something like 4'6" or 5' wide because my trainer loves nothing more than to torture me/us. My therapist says he carefully observes how to challenge me without killing me, which is a much more positive way of looking at it, and seems a lot nicer. But who knows, really........
- I have managed to jump actual 3'6" courses and been pretty okay with it.
- Doubles and triple combinations no longer scare the total shit out of me. They're not my favorites, or anything, but they're not that bad anymore.
- Somehow this has morphed into enough bravery to hack all over the farm (and horse show, for that matter) which is something that used to scare the crap out of my poor shriveled soul and now seems laughably easy
- I've inhaled more secondhand smoke than I care to admit, thanks to a certain trainer who has a cigarette forever present. And I not-so-secretly enjoy it. Uh, hi, I have a problem.

So? On to horse showing, and a year filled with inspiration and fun... I'm sure it's going to be a wild ride!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Meet The Ponies

No equestrian is complete without the true stars of the show - the horses.  I've been unbelievably lucky to have some incredible horses come into my life, but these are the ones who are currently playing starring roles.

Otherwise known as: Perfect Pony, The Very Best Pony In The Whole World, Pony On Stilts, Rilesburger

Riley is a 2004 imported KWPN (Royal Dutch Warmblood) gelding by Lancelot (Voltaire), out of a mare by Ircolando x Inferno x Lucky Boy.  (That's for all you breeding junkies out there.  I figure I'm interested, so someone else must be, right?)

As you can see, he is also possibly the cutest horse that ever walked on this earth.

Riley was imported in 2008 to the West Coast of Canada, where he enjoyed a year doing the Baby Green hunters and the Young Horse series when he proved a mite too exuberant for the hunter ring.  He was purchased in his five year old year by a rider at my barn, and spent some time doing some low schooling jumpers with his trainer, and then 2'6 and 2'9" hunters with his owner.  I began to lease him in late 2010, and in 2011, we did some 2'9" hunters, 80 and 90cm jumpers, and then the 1.0m Jr/Am division.  In 2012, he was off for the year due to injury, and in 2013 was leased to another rider who did the 2'9" Hunters with him.  By some strange twist of fate, he came back to me in early 2014, and we've been getting back in our groove ever since.  I currently compete with him in the Jumpers, doing everything from 90cm to 1.10m when the mood strikes.

He's what we call an unorthodox horse - his way of moving and jumping is a little different, but he has scope to burn, it's just a question of whether or not you can sit to it!  He has a sweet, mischievous, and sensitive personality, and hates to hack.  His favorite treat is a banana, eaten whole and not peeled, and he will happily eat an entire bunch of them with a rapt expression on his face.  His favorite place in the entire world is a horse show, and he takes his job as my horse very seriously.  He is truly my "heart horse" and I feel lucky every single day that I have him.

Otherwise known as: Tiggles, Mr. Tigglesworth, Handsome Boy, Twigger

Tigger is a 2005 Dutch Warmblood by Indoctro out of a Darco mare.

Tigger had a late start in life, having been orphaned as a foal and then having a little bit of a slow start under saddle.  He was put with excellent professionals by his owner and breeder, and I bought him in late 2012 as a seven year old.  At that point, he had competed up to 1.15m and was fast, careful, and fancy. I bought him with the intention of moving up in the jumpers and doing some Hunter Derbies.  He has an absolutely stunning jump, though this picture doesn't display it very well.

As it turned out, Tigger didn't love the jumper life, and he's been redirected to an excellent dressage professional who is shaping him into a wonderful, competitive, and fancy dressage horse.  He is currently solid Third Level and schooling Fourth Level, and it is thought he has Grand Prix potential.  He is also currently for sale, since my interests lie elsewhere, but he is super fun, fancy, and beautiful.  And in the meantime, I'm having a great time learning about dressage!

Personality-wise, Tigger is extremely sweet, very sensitive, likes nothing more than to cuddle with his human, and loves to be curried more than any horse I've ever met.  He is indifferent to the type of treat as long as he is being fed them, and he absolutely loves hacking and playing with his buddies in the field.  He enjoys being groomed more than anything in the world and needs to know he is being treated thoughfully by the people who take care of him.  He is a horse who has taught me a lot about being able to ride a sensitive, hotter type who cannot take being pushed around.

My Equine Journey... so far.

The title of this blog is "Confessions of a Wannabe Jumper" and this encompasses a grand dream I have: to jump in Grand Prix showjumping classes someday.

Ideally, this involves the LGCT circuit and maybe a team or two, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

I've been riding since the age of eight, though sporadically throughout my younger years.  I began riding, doing lessons once a week, at a predominantly Morgan Horse barn that enjoyed doing a variety of disciplines.  Western Pleasure, Saddle Seat, barrel racing, gymkhana games, breed show Hunter Pleasure, Equitation, trail riding - you name it, and we tried it at some point.  My barn also saw a number of other interesting breeds come through, such as Friesians, Icelandic horses, Arabians, Saddlebreds, and the odd Thoroughbred.  They were, however, predominantly a Morgan barn, as mentioned, and showed on the breed circuit in my area, with the best of the best going to Oklahoma City in autumn for the Morgan Grand National.

I always liked showing, and was fortunate enough to fall into some situations that allowed me to do so. I didn't grow up wealthy, though we certainly always had enough - there just wasn't tons of room in the budget for extraneous, expensive activities like showing horses.  Nevertheless, I was lucky to get into a situation where I was able to work off some board and lessons, and ride a lot of extra horses, and eventually go horse showing.  I'll never forget my first "A" rated Morgan show, where I was fifth and sixth in 13 & Under Hunter Pleasure and Hunt Seat Equitation, out of 19 riders and horses, with a gorgeous and lovely mare named Moira.

My first horse, Haley. 
She had her problems, but we also had some great success.

Not too long after this, I lucked into my first horse, a small, opinionated, redheaded Morgan mare named Haley.  We showed a little bit and had some success, but she had some pretty serious issues.  As a kid, this totally freaked me out and we decided to sell her.  This took a long time, but I was very lucky that a kind person at my barn selected me to show her young half-Arabian horse for her in the meantime.  I had a great time, and as a totally horse crazy kid I couldn't have been happier.  I showed the horse in Hunter Pleasure, Equitation, and even a short-lived appearance in Country English Pleasure.  I really got into the Arab circuit for some time, and served as the Vice President of the state Half Arabian Horse Association Youth Club, even traveling to the Arabian Youth Nationals and going on TV!  It was an amazing opportunity for which I am very grateful.  My involvement also led to a few catch rides on other peoples' horses, as well as showing in the odd Arabian Breeding class, which was extremely exciting for me, and we saw some really good ribbons. I was on cloud nine, of course.

Mr. K himself! Arabian Hunter Pleasure JTR

Haley finally sold, and I (sort of unwillingly) made a trade with her new owner for a two-year-old Morgan mare whom I named Ria.  Unwittingly, I had just made one of the most important decisions in my equine journey.  For a number of reasons, we decided to keep Ria at home, since we had a small farm and had spent some time building stalls and paddocks.  This was quite a learning experience, and I credit a lot of my current horsemanship skills to the simple necessity of having to learn how to house and properly feed a young horse!  Thankfully, I had a lot of great and experienced help, and we all survived to tell the tale.

Ria was the first horse I broke and trained all by myself, and we went on to have some incredible success together.  She also had the perfect brain - calm but a little sassy, and very willing to learn.  I didn't have an indoor (or outdoor!) arena, so we did our rides in fields, dirt roads, and wide ditches, which led to her being very broke indeed!  As time went on and we began to show, she started out by winning a lot of Junior Horse classes in both Hunter Pleasure and Western Pleasure, and once she turned five won just about every Open class I entered her in.  We were Champion at five out of six horse shows we attended that year, and Reserve Champion in the sixth.  I went on to take her to a nearby barn, where I worked as a groom and rider for a few months, which was invaluable experience, and my first time really properly working in the industry.

The horse who shaped me into the equestrian I am today.

The next year, after carefully saving up all year, we attended the Morgan Grand National for the very first time, one of my Grand Life Dreams.  We qualified for the Hunter Pleasure World Championship - which I'd wanted to win for years, and is the top prize for Morgan Hunter Pleasure horses - in a class early in the week, and while we didn't place in the Big Class it was an incredible experience.  I also made some great connections, after shyly approaching a trainer whom I'd admired from a distance for a long time and asking her for a riding lesson. She graciously acquiesced, and an alliance was formed, which turned out to affect my life in a big way.  About six months later, I went to work for her farm, a very well known Morgan barn, as a working student.  I learned huge amounts of information in a short time and, although I was exhausted, knew the experience was totally worth it.  I ended up leaving to attend college, but during that time, sold Ria to a wonderful woman and purchased a young Morgan gelding called Chad, who was hot and fun and fancy.  Chad ended up being almost everything I ever dreamed of, and was Reserve National Champion Hunter Pleasure Stallion & Gelding the following year.  Unfortunately, he was also really hard to ride, and although my trainer could make him look like an absolute dream it wasn't so easy for me or anyone else!  We had some great success in the Amateur Hunter Pleasure ranks, but I ended up selling him down the road with the hope of finding something more fun to ride.

Chad, fierce and fancy

A lot of things happened in between there - I had some health issues, and I met my amazing boyfriend and moved a very long way in order to live with him.  In his location, there's really no such thing as breed shows, Saddlebreds, Morgans, or anything of the ilk, so it was time for a discipline change.  And that finally brings us to the recent past!

Starting in early 2010, I began part-boarding a been there, done that horse called Slappy from a local but well known farm recommended for its excellent hunter/jumper instruction.  I hadn't ever really jumped before - sure, the odd obstacle here and there in those ditches with Ria - but I had no formal training whatsoever and basically started from square zero.  In my first lesson, they had to teach me what two point position looked like! However, I found my legs quickly enough and started competing in the 2'6" Adult Amateur hunters that summer.  I did a few shows, maybe three or four, and found that I had a new and unwelcome friend in riding: anxiety!  This was new and startling, since I'd never really felt significant fear when riding before.

Itty bitty Hunter Land with Slappy.  
Also the beginning of my very own Crazy Eyes.

I outgrew Slappy pretty quickly - he was very useful and taught me huge amounts, but was more or less maxed out around 2'9".  My trainers at the time suggested a horse that had just come up for lease in-barn, named Riley.  He was a five year old KWPN (Royal Dutch Warmblood) gelding and his owner had just found out she was pregnant. Was I interested?

Riley and I got to know each other over the winter, and it was a slow experience.  We jumped a lot of very small Xs for a very long time.  We began the 2011 show season in the 2'9" adult amateur hunters, had some good success, and moved fairly quickly into the teeny tiny jumper ranks since I couldn't get out of the hunters fast enough.  We showed a lot of 80cm schooling classes and did some 90cm schoolings and 3ft hunter equitations, and the odd 90cm Jr/Am class when the horse show offered them.  Once we started to get things together, we started doing the 1.0m classes in July of 2011.  We were almost immediately successful and had some excellent placings, but I remember the learning curve being very steep indeed!  At the very end of the year, we tried out the 1.10m, which was quite ill-fated and, looking back, I realize I wasn't really ready for, since I was still freezing up and forcing my horse to make the decisions.  For a green horse, he handled my foibles awfully well, and almost always made the right choice.

Jumpers are fun!

I was all set for the 2012 show season after a tough winter when Riley came out of the pasture lame one day in late April.  The swelling and lameness never went away, and about seven days later, he was diagnosed with a check ligament injury.  He was immediately placed on stall rest with limited hand walking, and we canceled our summer show plans and went into rehab mode.

Rehab sucks.

Summer 2012 was long - no jumping, no real riding, and a lot of walking around an indoor arena on a tranquilized horse who still jumped out of his skin every time the wind blew.  He finally started trotting for short periods in August, and this calmed him down greatly.  By the end of September, we had started jumping very small obstacles again.

By this time, I had leased Riley for two years, and thrown out a show season due to injury.  Not a big deal - horses happen! - but it was a blow, and we weren't sure if he would hold up in the long run. Since my lease came to an end not long thereafter, we decided to start looking for a new horse.  To make a long search story short, I found one in the shape of a young Dutch Warmblood gelding whom we ended up naming Tigger.  He was seven, competed to the 1.15m with a lot of scope left, was fancy (my goal being some hunter derbies and moving up in the jumpers) and a total blast to ride.  I couldn't whip out my checkbook fast enough.

The mighty Tigger, the first day I rode him

Unfortunately for me, he'd also been ridden by a pro all his life, and wasn't too impressed by Amateur Me.  The Pro Effect wore off about two months into our relationship and things started to go south, fast. The dire end came when I ended up crashing through an oxer by myself while he observed me stoically from the other side, sometime in May of 2013, after me having not jumped (or really ridden) for several months while he was in boot camp.  He was redirected under a local pro who is known for his ability to ride just about anything, and I went to the sidelines once again.  Yet another long summer ensued while we tried - and failed - to sell him.  I finally reached my wit's end in late July and, with the loving support of my amazing boyfriend, leased an ex-event horse who was braver than brave and indifferent to the imperfect ride. This lovely horse, Denver, held my hand through some incredibly unconfident moments, and through a summer where I was terrified to jump 60cm (1'9"!) in a horse show.  We finished out the year doing a terribly unconfident 90cm and with no desire to move up whatsoever.  But at least it was something, and at least I was riding and jumping again.

The worth-his-weight-in-gold-and-then-some Denver! 
Please allow me to take a nap on your neck.

In later 2013, my barn went through a lot of changes, and one of them involved a new head trainer, whom I post about plenty on this blog.  He is very French and very deadpan, which leads to plenty of extremely entertaining moments.  He is also very experienced and quite literally one of the top riders in the country.  While I didn't realize it at the time, I lucked into something big, and it's an experience for which I will be eternally grateful.

Since then, my horse life has evolved from "please allow me to consider quitting once my horse sells, because this really sucks" to having the ambition and extreme desire to Be All I Can Be.  The right coaching is instrumental, and I feel confident that I have that in our head trainer, who is supportive and positive and doesn't pull any punches.  While I'm still ironing out the finer details, I look forward to the day I step into the Grand Prix ring for the first time.

Our new head trainer pulled me off Denver about two months into our trainer-student relationship, since I improved by unbelievable leaps and bounds and he scoped out fast.  I rode a lovely chestnut gelding named Ruckus for several months, then, in an interesting twist of fate, wound up riding Riley a little bit since he was around.  He had been out on lease with an adult amateur who did the low hunters, and had developed some medical issues which required quite a few months of work.  Eventually, it was decided I would begin leasing Riley once more, and I started a new lease with him in April of 2014.

The rest, as they say, is on the blog.