Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The September 10

Why yes, he is perfect.

Otherwise known as L's Unofficial Blog Hop, here are the September 10 Questions. Because questionnaires are fun and so is this blogging community and yolo and stuff.

Is there something you don't like about your riding?
Is this a trick question? There are a million things I don't like about my riding. But to start, I hate my right leg. I swear the damn thing has a mind of its own. I hate that my equitation isn't always perfect. I hate that I don't make good decisions 100% of the time. I wish I could just ride better period.

Does your horse buck?
On occasion, sure. He's not much for it under saddle, other than crowhopping and broncing a little. He'll occasionally throw in a big one when he's playing.

Is your horse head shy?
No, not really. Of course if you do quick movements near his head he'll be pretty unimpressed, but he doesn't mind you hanging all over him (ears included) if you're nice about it.

Favorite barn chore to do?
On a daily basis, probably the grooming process, at least when I have time to go about it properly. On "special occasions" I like doing the pony makeover - clipping, bathing, banging of tail and pulling/trimming of mane and polishing them right up. So gratifying!

How many times do you ride a week?
It depends on the week, but I'm generally at the barn five or six days; lately it's six. When I'm there I ride between one and four horses, but almost always at least two.

Who is your favorite pro rider?
I have several pro riders I really like and admire and honestly cannot narrow it down to just one. In no particular order, they are Eric Lamaze, Yann Candele, Tiffany Foster, Beezie Madden, Kent Farrington, McLain Ward, Marcus Ehning, and Ludger Beerbaum.

If one pro rider could train you for one day who would it be?
I'm already unbelievably fortunate to have one of my favorite pro riders training me on a daily basis, and I would not exactly be quick to trade that. But if we're talking a clinic situation I would be really happy to get training from anyone on the above list - however, Eric Lamaze is probably at the very top.

Favorite Facial Marking?
I love a thinnish blaze (stripe?) or some combination of star/stripe/snip. I love chrome on a horse. Riley's facial marking is pretty much perfect if you ask me!

Leg Markings or No Leg Markings?
Well, I love chrome. So leg markings it is. My perfect horse has either two hind stockings or all four white stockings. Total pain to keep clean, though!

Ever broken anything falling off?
Sure, it's always only a matter of time if you ride remotely seriously! I've broken my arm, hand, fingers, torn my MCL, and broken several helmets (I swear I always hit headfirst!)

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Show Jumping Tournament

Day One

Our week started well. Riley shipped in early Wednesday morning, and we did the 1.0m schooling class.  No 90cm to start for me this week! The course was a little weird for a schooling - a lot of twisty turns and very few lines.  There was even a three stride line, which I thought was extremely irritating. I hate three stride lines. They're basically in and outs or two strides in disguise. You still have to get in there pretty perfectly or you're in trouble.  The course design all week was a bit screwy, and the designer, Guilherme Jorge, who, if I'm not mistaken is doing Rio 2016, absolutely *adores* his rollbacks.  On Thursday, he even threw in a triple combination. IN A SCHOOLING CLASS. What.

Having said that, our 1.0m schooling went really well. Riley jumped his socks off, felt amazing, and I had a pretty good day, saw my distances well, made good decisions etc.  No tremendous mistakes. I came out of the combination at jump 4AB with quite a lot of horse under me, so made him add the extra stride in to 5, but that was calculated and not me panicking and pulling to nothing. As it is, it set us up perfectly for the line that followed. We were clear and Trainer said it was the best course I've ridden to date.  That was pretty nice!

Course map, click for bigger

Very good pony.

Day Two

Flat day, gave Riley a wee leg stretch that mostly involved walking around and using him as a couch for the better part of an hour. Then I watched horses jump for about six hours, and it was totally fantastic.

Day Three

This show is a bit odd in that it's the penultimate show of the year for this series, and is therefore Fancy and awards all kinds of money and makes everything into a Big Deal. There were about five Grand Prix that went, including a World Cup qualifier and lots of money classes, even for us ammies. Anyway, in order to make it More Fancy, they run one single class for each division every day beginning on Friday.

We started out doing a 1.0m Jumpoff class.  I was really nervous again, and decided I wouldn't mind getting a rail in the first round so as not to jump off.  Well, my wish was granted when I cantered to the first jump, decided I was too fast despite seeing my distance, and decided to slow down the last three strides which put us on a perfect half stride.  I went "JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL" and Riley took over, but in the process, knocked down the first jump because he's not used to being left completely to his own devices. So. That was that for the jump-off.  Mr. Course Designer decided to make the first THREE jumps rollbacks, which I totally did not appreciate since I prefer to have at least two jumps to get into a decent rhythm.  We left pretty far to jump two, but were good to 3AB, then left from West Texas to jump four. After that, I got my shit together and we had a pretty good back half of the round, except when I put five in a six stride line, but it walked VERY short so I didn't really feel that bad.  Trainer was just like, "well, you were not very patient, you put too much pressure..." Nothing like going back to old habits!

I felt really badly after that round, since I hadn't ridden so terribly in the ring in quite some time.  I had a deep wish to do the 1.10m on Saturday, but after that Trainer didn't even mention it. And he shouldn't have since I had no business doing it, but I just felt horrible and stupid and really angry with myself. Everyone kept saying it wasn't that bad, and that the recovery from the beginning of the course was good, and realistically, they're right, but I was (and am) still disappointed with my performance. I spent a really long time beating myself up about it.

Day Four

This day held a lovely 1.0m Table C Speed class for us.  Table C is faults converted - so if you jump the round in, say, 60.04 seconds and then have one rail, it counts as four seconds, and your time ends up being 64.04. It means you can still do alright even if you have a rail, if you're fast enough. Trainer was in some kind of ~mood~ so didn't really walk the course with us other than saying "OK, jomp one, efficient to jomp two, and you know. Just jump eet, is not hard." So I got to plan my course more or less on my own, and then basically held Trainer captive and informed him of my plan while he nodded along.

I had a great plan for this course and visualized it in my head a few times, so I knew where I was going. (Side note? This works. Really well.)

I had a great warmup, then went in and got started, had a great canter and good rhythm and then I don't really know *what* happened. I hit jump one, and did one of those things where you're on the perfect distance but just don't realize it?... or something? and so my horse jumped and I kind of flailed around and tried to stay on him.

Sorry buddy :(

Of course since it was a speed class, I had to land and turn and run right after that, and kind of managed to do so. The rest of the course was actually pretty decent, just a little herky-jerky.  I made all the inside turns I wanted to make, and stayed pretty efficient throughout the whole thing, which I was really happy about - efficiency is not my strong point.  It was all very well until the very last line and second-last jump when Riley decided to drag me to an oxer and jump it like a pancake.  So we had that rail - but he had a rude awakening when we had to make a speed turn right after that and he was dragging himself along on his front end. Ha ha, Ponycake, who gets the last laugh?

Had we not had the rail, we would have ended up fourth or so, but we were kicked out of the ribbons a few horses later.  Once again, I was mad at myself for not riding very well. But less mad, because at least I hadn't ridden quite as badly as the day before, unless we're really counting jump one here... yikes.

Better, except my equitation is horrifying. I HATE MY RIGHT LEG.
But isn't he cuuuute?

Day Five

Day Five was the penultimate day, and the day I had been thinking about for quite some time.  The 1.0m doesn't usually award money - ever - and today, Day Five, included the $2500 1.0m Grand Prix. (Yes, it really is called that. It seems absurd but I can now say I've jumped in a Grand Prix... har.) Anyway, trying to view things optimistically, I decided that today was our day. Back in 2011, which would be the last year I really did any showing, Riley and I did this very same class and had the back rail of the very last jump on course and didn't make the jump-off. At the time this was very sad indeed and I plotted that I would win this class someday. Or, you know. The same class at 1.10m. Or something. But since it worked out that I was doing it this year, I decided I needed to win it, or at least do very well.

Starting last night I basically went into hyperfocus mode around it. I used the super speshul Butet conditioner on my saddle, spent 30 minutes polishing my boots, oiled my bridle lightly, and pulled out my black jacket. I even tried on my whites before realizing they literally look like balloon pants now (the last time I tried to wear them, I was about 30 lbs heavier.) But whites are more than a bit over the top for a 1.0m anything, so it was all good.

I arrived early, as usual, and ended up walking portions of my course - including the jump-off - during the class before mine.  There was a pretty crazy inside turn from jump one to jump two in the jump-off and I started plotting.

When the time came to walk, Trainer was in a very jovial mood indeed, and after we went over the first round (fairly straightforward) we got to talking about the jump-off. I've never really spent so much time discussing a course with him, and it was pretty amazing.  I told him I wanted to do the inside turn and he looked at me like I had three eyes, and was kind of like, "I do not theenk zis is such a good idea, it very tight... you can do if you really want, but I tink you should go around zis jomp here and just keep coming and you be fine, zen do a good turn when you land, zen you can go inside as much as you want! *wink*" We talked about it a bit more, and he was like, "well, here, let's go over how to ride eet, jost in case you tink you wanna do it" and he showed me how to ride it and what he would do.  It was SO COOL. I think I will commandeer him like this at all points in the future. Anyway, the jump-off didn't have too much for inside turns after that, other than landing from jump one, going in between a jump and the "hut" (where the ring crew hangs out) and rolling back sharply to jump two, a maxed out oxer, then another sharp left turn to jump three, which led to a four stride line, then a looooong bending line to the in and out and sharp rollback to the right to the final oxer in the jump-off course.  Course designers love to strategically place shit so you either have to go around or inside, and that was no exception - there was an inside turn landing off the in and out inside the finish timers for the first round and pretty much everyone was going outside it since it was TIGHT. Trainer kind of smirked at me and said, "you wanna do inside turn? Go inside ze timer!" I told him I absolutely would and he goes "I believe it when I see it!" since approximately 80% of the time I end up doing the outside turn.  But I was in it to win it today.

Here is the course map. The "hut" is depicted by the weird little star thing, and the location of the finish timers on there is actually pretty accurate.

I hopped on Riley and immediately felt he was tired. I was hoping he would wind up when we cantered, since he usually does, but the heat (it was seriously hot this week) and days of showing had taken their toll, and he felt heavy and draggy and was kind of lugging himself around on his front end.  We jumped a few jumps and when I felt him have zero pop off the ground over our first oxer I decided to do a little work to try and get him together.  Not much choice really - it was either that or have a horse that dragged me around.  So we went forward - NOW - and then halted, backed, forward NOW, halt, tiny canter, pirouette (well, as pirouette-y as he can do, which is pretty darn close) to the left, pirouette to the right, halt, trot NOW, halt, canter, and voila I had a much more balanced horse again.  It didn't last forever so I did the same thing again before our last set of verticals and got him feeling good and pingy again.

He had a little break before we went in, which I think helped, as we waited for my barnmate to go in front of us.  She had an okay round, sadly with a rail, and her super cute green baby was pretty tired and dragging her around a bit.  When she was finished, I trotted in, showed Riley the in and out at 4AB which he didn't care about, trotted in between the hut and jump 5 since it's sort of spooky, and then did some more canter, back, canter, pirouette, then they rang me in and off we went.

We hit jump one slightly forward and perfectly, then did seven strides (which walked in an eight or nine, ouf) to jump two, but it was right there and easy. Then we were around efficiently to jump three, nine strides to a slightly short in to the two-stride which I didn't mind at all, then rolled back to jump five, an oxer.  Here is the only place I made much of a mistake, and just never really bent forward at all when we jumped it - I think I did this because I knew we were slightly forward and I would need to steady for the skinny coming out in five strides.  I tend to ride more upright than most people, basically because of Riley's peculiar jumping style and the fact that you will totally lose your balance and die if you're ahead of him ever (and Trainer also prefers a more upright style), but that was way too much.  But we came through it nicely, steadied well and came very slightly forward in the five to the skinny, cleared it and went to six, a single oxer off a right turn. I saw it forward, we hit it great, then rode to the other single oxer on a bending step. We hit this really well, then did a quick turn left to a vertical to oxer in a shortish four strides. We went through this really well, then bent to the one stride vertical-oxer which was off your eye. We did it in a short 10 and I clucked coming out, and felt and heard Riley tap the rail - but I looked back, and all the jumps were still up, and we were well inside the time.

On the video, which maybe only I can hear because I'm totally attuned to his voice at this point, Trainer is providing commentary, mostly in the form of grunts and tense one word utterances, which I find extremely entertaining. But anyway, here's round one:

Up and over jump two!

Next up came the jump-off. I had decided to follow Trainer's sage advice and not do the super-crazy inside turn, but go from jump one in the jump-off in between the hut and jump 5, and try to hit the next jump on a forward stride. The corner was *tight* and it was a serious rollback, and other people kept hitting it super short. I, however, realized I had a lot more stride to play with than a lot of people, and kind of figured if I just really kept flowing through the corner we would be able to catch it easily out of stride. My next plan involved a swift turn left to the four stride line, then turn and bend and catch the one stride vertical-oxer on an angle, then turn inside the timer to finish on the oxer.

So here's what happened in the jump-off. I was super pumped and really excited to be there, but followed my plan, which really was fairly carefully thought out.  I approached jump one on a medium canter, and jumped it from left to right, which set up the turn between the hut and jump 5 back to the second jump in the jump-off perfectly. We hit the oxer on a forward stride - exactly how I wanted - but it was a bit of a bigger jump than I wanted and landed us out a hair further than I would have liked. However I quickly got it back together and turned left, straightening out in the very last stride before the vertical in to the four stride line. We were through the four stride absolutely perfectly, then I landed and turned immediately to the one stride. I had to bow out very slightly more a bit later in order to not jump it on a right angle, but hit it in a shortish nine strides, jumped from left to right again (I WAS SO PROUD OF MYSELF FOR THAT) and then turned HARD and went INSIDE THE TIMER and hit the last jump out of the rollback turn on a forward step. Then through the timers and finish - double clear!

I was SO happy when I finished. Trainer was basically ecstatic and actually clapped and whooped, which doesn't happen. Ever. He told me I did a really good job and he was very happy with how I rode, and I got to say, "SEE, I told you I would do the inside turn!" and he went "heh heh, ya, you go fast! Look at you!"

Jump one in the jump-off, I guess he jumped it okay. ;)

Out of the four stride line at the top of the ring, plotting the approach to the in and out!

When the dust finally settled, we got the blue ribbon, along with a truly fabulous amount of prize money. I am still in shock and happy, happy disbelief.

I am so proud of him I could just squeak. 
Actually I have been squeaking all afternoon.

It's not even the ribbon - although that's pretty damn awesome, don't get me wrong! It's the fact that I went into it so hyperfocused, into what would undoubtedly be the most pressure-filled class that I've ridden (money on the line!) and was able to make a really great plan, deal with all of it when it wasn't going all that well (tired and draggy horse) and fix it, and then stick to my plan and be incredibly successful.  I am really proud of myself for that, and for shaking off the previous crappy two days and riding something close to what I'm actually capable of doing in a pressure situation.  I am hopeful that this translates to the future, when things are *really* going to be important, and more people care about whether I win than just me and my trainer.

But for now... you know what, I'm just going to revel in it and enjoy it. :)

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Why I Do What I Do

First official blog hop! #exciting

If you've taken the time to read My Equine Journey, you know that I've had the opportunity to dabble in a serious number of disciplines. As a kid I would have ridden just about anything, no matter what it was, though I wanted more than anything to be an Eventer.  My aunt - the only other horse person in my family! - did Eventing at the lower levels, and I wanted to be just like her.  She had it all, as far as horse-crazy me was concerned.  Multiple horses, the ability to compete, awesome clothes and tack, and got to ride all the time.  

Life had a different plan, though, and I ended up doing Morgans and Arabs in breed shows, for the most part, for many years instead.  This proved to be a pretty great foundation for what I do now.

I accidentally-on-purpose fell into jumping. I moved to a country where Morgans, Arabs, and ASB don't really have much of a breed circuit, but hunters and jumpers are everywhere.  In fact, the area in which I live has some of the best riding instruction and barns available anywhere.  I started out by just wanting to jump a horse over stuff, and didn't care what it really was.  Hunters, jumpers, equitation, whatever.

But as time went on and I became more interested in the whole jumping thing, I decided Jumpers were the way to go.  I have to say I love just about everything about it.  I love the technicality of the courses, the challenge presented by the way a course is built - the striding, the jump design, the strategic positioning of which jumps are where and why.  I love the nuances, and how fixing one tiny thing can lead to an amazing difference in riding and performance. On days where I'm not busy thrashing myself for not moving up fast enough, I love the journey from riding not so well to riding better. I love the powerful feeling of my horse when we jump some enormous (to me!) obstacle. I LOVE IT when the jumps go up, even though I'm crapping my pants at the same time.  I love the amazing, incomparable feeling of flight over a 1.10m+ wide oxer that you hit on the perfect stride. When I'm not too in my head about it, I love pushing myself to jump more, jump bigger, jump higher, jump better, go faster, ride better.  I love the craziness of the division, too - it's risky, it's a little dangerous, but it's fun and at least the jumps fall down.  I am not so secretly an adrenaline junkie. Just ask anyone who's driven with me. ;)

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Day Three

Day two passed with relatively little fanfare, so it doesn't get its own post.  I flatted Riley yesterday to find a total firecracker of a horse underneath me. I tried working with it for awhile and finally gave up 40 minutes in when he kept finding things to "spook" at, tuck his tail, bolt off at the gallop and crowhop down the rail.  He is actually pretty polite when he does it (all things considered) but it's his way of saying OH MY GOD I NEED SOME FREE TIME. So free time he got, which literally took all of five minutes on the lunge line getting some bucking, farting and galloping out.  When he is done he tells you, the smart little monkey.

Today, however, I showed. I entered both 1.0m classes, which should have been NBD for me. For some annoying reason today I got really, really nervous about it, though.  When we were walking, I was staring down some of the oxers and going, OH MY GOD WHY ARE THESE SO BIG. Yes, back to that shit again.  In watching one of the 90cm classes that went previously I was thinking they looked like 1m, and the 1m looked like 1.10m. In reality I think they were just maxed out. A 1.0m square oxer is not a super tiny thing, not when you're standing next to it.

I ended up having my first real experience with our New Assistant during the course walk for the first course.  She was helpful and obviously knows her stuff and I enjoyed her quite a bit.  So that's a good start!

I hopped on Mr. Riley and got to warming up and it all started very nicely, lots of really good jumps until we got to the final oxer toward the end and I just freaked out.  For some reason I was having a lot of difficulty finding *anything* off the right lead and tried to steady, then steadied too much, and ended up just breaking to a trot and halt three times in a row.  Trainer was annoyingly silent and just told me to figure it out which I was feeling very happy about.  Finally the fourth time I totally buried him but we made it over and then we went down to a vertical that I also jumped like crap and then Trainer said "let's go." I felt anything but ready. We had some time and I just kind of completely lost it while waiting to go in, like hysterical sobbing kinda thing.  I felt really unprepared and horrible. Barn Manager eventually wandered over and did her usual pep talk and I told her I just really, really wanted to go back to the barn, which is not something I'm actually serious about ever, but was today. She was like, fine, you can tell Trainer you aren't riding then! And then he wandered over, and she was like, are you going to tell him? And I told her to shut up and Trainer lightly poked fun at me sobbing and carrying on like a moron and then suddenly it was my turn and I stopped crying and sorted it out.

I was terrified, *knew* I was going to fall off and ruin my THIRD helmet this summer and just... I don't know. I haven't lost it that badly in a really, really long time.  But I swear it's like someone different shows up when I get in the ring.  It's kind of bizarre. I showed Riley all the scary things and then got started.

I originally planned on approaching jump one, an oxer coming up the middle of the ring from a decently long approach, off the right lead, but decided instead to approach from the left since my right lead oxers weren't going so well.  We came up on this okay, but I second guessed my approach, legged him up a little too much and then had to steady the last three strides and we were a little bit short, but it was a decent start after what had happened in warmup.  Of course jump two was a triple bar (NEMESIS) off a short inside turn and I was totally panicking about this because of course the last time I showed I fell off over a triple bar and, in fact, it was THE EXACT SAME TRIPLE BAR (same jump colors and construction) in almost exactly the same place. I was one sad cookie when I saw that.  However, I used an opening rein and kept my canter through the turn and it came up just beautifully off a slightly forward canter.  From there it was a nice six (which walked in six and a half, but rode very nicely in the six for me) to a vertical, then a left turn to a sort-of short corner and a two-stride oxer-vertical.  We hit the oxer slightly short, which was fine and set up the distance to the vertical out beautifully.  He jumped through this combination really well and I was actually quite pleased to see the work we've been doing with teaching him about shorter distances paying off. In the past, he jumped like a frog and sort of scrambled over them when they weren't perfect, but he's starting to figure out how to actually plant his legs and use himself better. Quite gratifying.

Next up was a lengthy gallop to an oxer on a no-number long bending line, then a swift rollback to a Swedish oxer (second nemesis.)  The oxer came up a wee long but easily out of stride. I felt that I rode the rollback well, saw the patient distance to the Swedish, cleared it quite nicely and then bent in eight strides to a vertical.  From there, a right turn took us to a skinny set on the diagonal, then a steady bending six to a vertical-oxer one stride.  We were patient to the skinny, which set up the steady six well, and were quite good through the one-stride.  From there it was a quick turn left to a vertical, then six strides to the last oxer.  Well, it was a Speed class, and my horse has a big step, and we had a big jump in to the vertical so.... I asked for the five and there it was.  He jumped the line like the superstar he is and actually jumped the oxer very well - then went flying off into the sunset. When I finally brought him back to earth he was prancing and snorting and arching his neck; it was totally adorable, he was so proud of himself.  And I was proud of him too! It was definitely one of the nicer rounds I've ever ridden. I was REALLY pleased with the smoothness and flow of the whole thing - particularly after our horrifying warmup.


Trainer thought my freaking out was hilarious after the fact, which... bleh. I dunno. I was kind of annoyed by the whole situation but I was in that kind of mood today so I don't really know what to make of it.

Anyway many hours later my second 1.0m class finally got going and we somehow ended up literally going last in the order.  Our warm-up was good until we hit another oxer off the right lead and the same thing started happening. This time I went over to Trainer and asked him WTF was going on and for some help.  He suggested doing some lengthening and shortening, but in shortening to really keep my leg on and push Riley's hind end up and make him actually collect instead of puking on himself. And also to look up the last stride.  We did this and were immediately successful - I just wish it had been suggested sooner but at least we got it fixed eventually!

I was much less nervous going in the ring and felt pretty in the zone.

Jump one was a diagonal way at the top of the ring, a vertical from the left lead.  We hit this nicely. Jump two was an immediate rollback to the Swedish, which was a bit tricksy since it meant you had to have good rhythm and pace right away and could easily lull you into being too slow. We got to this jump really really nicely and were right on pace. The next line actually walked in a nine but I moved up slightly and got it done in eight since it had been very easy to do in the class previous.  After this we turned right and jumped up the middle of the ring over the single oxer, which was quite lovely, then a left turn to the line coming toward the in-gate. I got there really well, then steadied hard for the six, and he jumped out of the line really beautifully. From there, a left turn to a skinny that came up quickly enough, and I came forward a hair then sat back too soon to try and get the steady six done for the next line, and so he caught the rail behind - totally my fault and my only real irritating mistake in the course.  But we got the nice steady six done, he jumped through the in and out great, and then it was a long gallop back to that inside turn leading to the triple bar.  I felt I had little choice but to go inside since the time allowed was tight enough and everyone who had gone outside to that point had gotten time faults, so inside it was.  However I saw it literally nine strides away, which is pretty much impossible around a turn but somehow magically occurred.  We hit it on the PERFECT forward momentum, and it honestly felt like the best jump of the course. Then I didn't steady quiiiiite enough until the last minute and we were tight in the six stride, but through it fine, and left turn to the two stride to finish, which I hit a squidge long but was NBD, I just steadied a mite in there and came out well.

Once again please be gentle when observing videos :)

I was really pleased with both my rounds, with the accuracy, the flow, and general feeling of having nailed it.  My second round *felt* better while I was riding it... the rhythm and pace felt more jumper-y, I felt super tall and strong and unshakeable, my leg position felt really good and Riley felt fantastic.  I don't think I'll forget the turn and jump to that triple bar for a long time, though it doesn't look like anything too special on the video.  

All in all very pleased with the day, now I'm off to bed to do it all again in about nine hours!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Three Weeks of Showing, Day One

So it was about six degrees when I showed up this morning. Seriously.  SO COLD. I had to text a friend and beg her to bring me mittens and proceeded to layer every single coat (of which there are FIVE) in the back of my car on my person.  I looked like the Michelin Man. But at least I was approaching warm.

This of course meant the ponies were bright eyed and bushy tailed.  When I flatted Riley last night, he was a wild beast of a pony, and I spent the majority of our hour-long ride alternating between "LISTEN TO ME JESUS CHRIST" and just letting him gallop and crowhop.  So I was expecting a similarly idiotic horse today, particularly since he was looking around gleefully with that glint in his eye.  But, to my surprise, he was in The Zone - that perfect place between fresh and not fresh enough, where he was forward and had his own engine going strongly but still being polite enough to listen to me.

Thank goodness for this because our warm-up was cut short when Trainer abruptly appeared about halfway through my trot work and commanded me to canter and get ready to jump.  Luckily by now I am fairly used to this happening so did a few rounds at the canter, a lead change, forward and back, then let him walk for a minute before we started to jump.

Our warmup was pretty great. Uneventful mainly; there was one oxer I saw where I started to pull and just decided to pull up instead of going since it seemed really pointless.  But other than that I really can't complain.  Riley's rhythm was great, my eye seemed to be working and I was feeling pretty good, and of course, my horse felt fantastic, which always helps!

I had opted into doing the 90cm today instead of the 1m as a warmup class, since our lesson Tuesday was a disaster and I was more than dubious about our ability to make it around a 3ft course alive. It is what it is.  In hindsight, the 1m would have been fine, but confidence and all that crap.

The first jump was the right lead set on a bit of a diagonal; it looked like a really odd approach when we walked but it rode okay. I hit it a bit quiet and legged a tad after we landed to get back on the right rhythm. Jump 2 was an oxer on a bending line with no number, just off your eye. We hit this well, then turned right to a green oxer, which we hit nicely as well.  From there it was a bending eight strides to the weird barn, and I just took back a tiny bit too much, and ended up having to leg for the vertical.  I was kind of annoyed by that since it was just a useless mistake.  After that we had some speed going so I went a hair wider in the next turn, a 180* turn left to the liverpool.  We met this well and patiently, he jumped it like a champ, then another long bending line with no number to an oxer at the top of the ring.  We were a touch short to this but I was pretty fine with it.  Then a left turn rollback to a vertical, which I hit quite forward since the route I took was a bit of a short turn.  From here I made my biggest mistake (to me) and since I had to gag Riley slightly to get him back for the seven strides started doing dumb stuff with my body again and leaning back.  In my defense he wasn't listening too well but I still should have been able to do it without putting my shoulders on his butt, argh.  That said, we hit the "out" of the line, an oxer, really well.  Then a right turn to a vertical near to the in gate, which we hit great, another right turn to an oxer, we hit this well, and a nice steady six to a vertical-vertical in and out, which was probably my nicest line of the entire course.  Then a left turn to a vertical set on a diagonal to finish, which we met perfectly.

And here's a video for y'all, try not to be too judge-y! I am more than 150% aware of all the mistakes but we are a work in progress!

All in all I was really happy with my course and happier yet with how he handled it.  Still plenty for me to work on, but it was a good start to the week, and it sure as hell beat Tuesday's lesson.  Trainer was really happy with it and interestingly enough had no criticism to give, of course I am plenty good at doing that for myself!

The rest of the day passed as most show days do - pottering around with friends, a bit of light shopping, lots of observation of warm-up and show rings, some jump setting etc.  When all this was over I went back to the farm and flatted three more horses and now I'm so tired I want to die. Tomorrow should be real fun, glad I'm not showing and just have to flat!

Peace out for now, I'm going to pass out.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Lesson Fun Times

Yesterday afternoon I booked in a lesson with Trainer, who is back from Spruce Meadows.

It was also the day New Assistant started, and I was nervous and curious about meeting her.  I was also nervous about riding in front of Trainer, which is not terribly abnormal but this was a different level of nervous than normal. I have a pathological need to be "good enough" which does me some favors sometimes (it's definitely helped build a good work ethic and pay attention to detail) but also can cause crippling nerves and anxiety at other times. 

I met New Assistant, which was as anticlimactic as it gets, something like "Hi, you must be New Assistant? I'm Irene, welcome to the farm!" received a "yup, hi!" and that was that.  I went on to my warmup, of which I got about halfway done when Trainer was all, "OK let's get going!" and ugh.

We warmed up over a small vertical, like usual.  I hit it beautifully - my best jump of the night, probably - the first time and almost as nicely the second. Then reversed direction and started to miss, seeing the half stride every time and usually taking back and waiting and eventually just pulling up because all I could see was that jump and I knew exactly what I was doing to fuck it up.  Trainer made me repeat this several times and be more patient through the corner (which Old Assistant has been instructing me to come forward through the corner... sigh) and this helped.

From there we jumped an oxer a few times, which was decent enough, if a little slow, I guess?.. and Trainer put together a course.  

First up was a five stride oxer-vertical line that rode kind of long.  I jumped through this okay, had to leg to get the vertical, and we were slightly long.  Then we rolled back right to a vertical, which I rode fine, and then rolled back left to an oxer set on an angle, followed immediately by a bending (LONG) seven strides to a vertical-vertical in and out.  I jumped the oxer a little short, then legged Riley a little bit and he just never even saw the verticals and kind of drifted left. Totally my fault but it happened.  So we circled around and jumped back through it.  From there it was another turn left and up the other side of the ring, oxer-vertical in a shortish four, this was a disaster since I had a long stride coming in and then had to choke him to get him back, then a bending six to another oxer, which we met in about five and a half.  Then a very tidy rollback left to a liverpool which I hit on a shitty stride and Riley made a frog jump over.

Trainer was like, "so, we just need to make eet more fluid, non? Go again."

I started up again, and well, to make a long story short it did not go well.  At all.  Riley was getting away from me, we were taking out strides, I was pulling or kicking at the last minute, we nearly made the in and out into a bounce, and then forgot the bending six entirely.  When I pulled up at the end Trainer just stayed silent for a bit and then went, "so, what did you think?"

Me: It sucked. It just sucked. I don't know what else to say. It was terrible.
Trainer: Well what happen?
Me: I... guess I'm just... not riding very well. I can't find the right rhythm, I'm pushing him too much and pulling him too much, and he's getting annoyed. I'm also just kind of sitting here when I don't really know what to do.
Trainer: Ya zat is about right.  Leesten, so you do ze first part, I am fine wiz it, zen you get to ze seven stride and you just sit and let him run.  Zen everyting else a disaster because now you have horse running away and zen you want to pull because you know is not right.

At this point Trainer removed my spurs (YES ONE OF THOSE LESSONS GRRRR FML) and sent me back out to do it again.

I headed back to the first oxer trying to quell the involuntary tears pooling up (yes, this happens when I have horrible, horrible rides) and breathe and tell myself I am a Majickal Rider who is Fantastique, then saw what I thought was the short one and definitely wasn't and had a terrible chip and pulled up and basically wanted to die from frustration.  Trainer is all "Eet ees fine, no need to make a beeg drama of it <grin>" and sent us out again.  And then it wasn't too bad.  It was more gallopy than I wanted and such but we nailed the seven stride and got the six stride bending a lot better so, that's something.

After this, I was breathing like I'd just run a marathon, and Trainer had us take a break for a few minutes.  Then he had us go back to our warm-up vertical, set around 1m at that point.

"OK, so when you are jomping you are staring at your jomp, zis is good until you make a commeetment to ze jomp, but you keep staring at eet even when you over ze jomp, when zere nothing else you can do, I tink this making you make last meenute deceesion zat you should not be making. So here what we gonna do, you gonna jump zis and last stride you gonna look up at ze sky. OK?"

I'm all, ummmm sure? and we start jumping.  Trainer shouts "up!!!!" at the opportune moment, I look up, and suddenly I know how to jump again.  The jump goes up and up and ends around 1.25m and it is suddenly again just no problem.  I was feeling much better after this and thought I might have gotten away with being done, but Trainer had me jump through the first half of the course again.  The course included the now-1.25m vertical (bearing in mind the rest of it was set around 3ft, maybe some closer to 1m) and he had me practice looking up every time.  It was really interesting, and seemed to help a lot.

I was still pretty despondent after this lesson, since all in all it wasn't exactly my best effort but at least we were able to finish on a good note.

After this I ended up accidentally schooling the cute young jumper gelding - his owner was around, and Trainer's next lesson canceled.  He was a total star, jumped around like a champ, and I didn't really miss to any jumps or make too many mistakes.  So that was nice and redeeming!  It was like being a different rider.  Somehow I find riding other peoples' horses is a lot easier than riding my own, sometimes.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Times, They Are A-Changin

Since the press release (yes, really) officially went out today I guess I can share the news that's been circulating around the Barniverse for a while now, on the off (or less than off...) chance people have figured out where I ride.  My barn has a new assistant trainer.

To revisit a time not long ago, in fact exactly (...to the day) 13 months ago, my barn owners moved from our then-head trainer, a lovely and successful local Grand Prix rider, to Monsieur Frenchman, who rides on the Team and Nations Cups and competitions of that ilk.  At the time, I had a *really* hard time with the news, not helped by the fact I was totally blindsided by it.  I loved our trainer, and had what I felt was a good relationship with her. She taught me a lot - literally, how to jump a horse, since I had never done such a thing four years ago.  I rode my first hunter courses, first jumper courses, first hunter derby, first equitation round... you name it, I did it with her.  She was masterful at finding horses that fit riders and gave them confidence.  I was horribly sad to see her go - despite understanding why, and in the end, understanding that it was for the best.

I was dubious and suspicious of Le Frenchman, which, looking back, is pretty funny.  My attitude was all, "I will try this out, and we will see how we feel about it after X months, and if I am unhappy, I will follow ex-trainer."  The barn attitude overall was extremely similar, with clients grouping in little clumps and trying to talk each other into staying.  "We'll just give him a chance," we said.  In the end, there were several defections, and about five of us that stuck on. The barn felt very small for awhile.

I mainly remember the period in between ex-trainer's departure and New Trainer getting all settled in and comfy as an absurdly stressful period of life.  First, I was angry.  Then I was sad. Then I was despondent.  Then I accepted it, and started to work without stirrups a lot more often in preparation for New Trainer's arrival. (We had about two months in between ex-trainer's departure and New Trainer's arrival, you see.)  I fortified myself by preparing as best I could, but knowing I would be a *terrible* rider relative to what he was used to.  I became angry at this thought pattern, thinking to myself, "it is not my choice he is coming here, it is not my fault that he thinks I will be a terrible rider. I did not ask for this."

The day he started, he did an in-barn clinic for the farm's riders. Words cannot describe how hard I worked the several weeks prior to his arrival. I lived without stirrups. I polished everything I owned until it had a mirror shine. I bathed my horse twice the night before the clinic.  If nothing else, I was determined to look good while splatting flat on my face.

It was during the first fifteen minutes of my first lesson, when he corrected my Gee-I'll-Just-Take-A-Nap-On-My-Horse's-Neck posture - literally made it disappear forever - with the simplest of instruction that I started to consider just how lucky I might actually end up being.  The ensuing two months before he departed for Florida confirmed that I was, in fact, the luckiest person on the face of the planet, and with his patient and ever-simple assistance found within myself the ability to jump fences bigger than I ever had and ride better than I ever could. It also lit a burning, competitive fire within, which I've touched on elsewhere, to do something really great within the industry.  I can't really say enough good things about Monsieur Trainer.

A year later, the original Assistant still hung in.  I am more pragmatic about original Assistant's departure.  It was/is a different relationship than that I had with ex-head trainer, and it also helps that I've known this was coming for a lengthy period of time.  I'm even looking forward to the change.

But for some reason, I still feel down about it, and irrationally stressed out. A lot of the same feelings I felt last year are coming back to haunt me. Trainer has been gone for about a month, and our progress has been slipping backward steadily.  Assistant is done with lessons as of today - I had my last one, with her, this morning.  On Tuesday, we have lessons with Trainer and New Assistant.  I'm nervous. I'm going to polish my boots, and I've already picked out my outfit.  I don't know very much about New Assistant, other than she can ride circles around me and everyone else in the barn, with the sole exception of Trainer. I suppose that's the point, after all.  But I don't know how she is as a coach or a person.  You'd think, with the underground gossip network that I have my finger on, I would know a lot more. But here we are.

In closing, I feel very pensive, stressed out, and not very funny today.  Sorry for the wall of text.

Monday, 8 September 2014

A Lesson with the Frenchman

First things first, today was my birthday! 

I'm kind of a birthday person. I don't care if this makes me selfish. I figure it's the ONE DAY a year where I can do whatever I want (without, you know, breaking laws or whatever) and not feel guilty about it.  Hooray!

Being a Birthday Person, you can perhaps imagine my excitement and joy when an e-mail arrived in my inbox on Sunday evening, stating something to the effect of "Trainer will be at the barn tomorrow for exactly five hours, so if you want a lesson, you better text Barn Manager NOW since has 999999 horses to ride and less than two lesson times available."

It being Monday, there was little enough competition for said lesson slots, so I was able to get in. YAY!

You may perhaps be wondering exactly why this level of ridiculous joy is happening when this person is my regular trainer and my level of happy was akin to something like, I don’t know, winning a clinic spot with McLain Ward.  Well, here’s the thing, Trainer has been away for over a month at this point, what with preparation for WEG and then actually showing at WEG and then being ridiculously successful at WEG (holla top 20 in the world) and is heading off to Spruce Meadows again this week, meaning no lessons before the next horse show next week (sad face) and my confidence wavering (at best) since we had done such EXCELLENT breakthrough work last month and holding that tenuous little egg together has proven impossible without his assistance.  I am, of course, exceptionally pleased (and proud!) for him, and want him to be successful, but these are, realistically, the down sides of having what basically amounts to a celebrity trainer.  It's cool, we make do, and I go hacking a lot, but it's also pretty amazing when he's here.

Since we weren't expecting him back (at all) and he was more or less using the barn as a stopping point between France and Calgary, I basically viewed this lesson as a fabulous birthday present.

But on to the lesson.

I arrived early in order to properly and thoroughly groom Mr. Ponycake, who was (as ever) very happy to see me.  Lessons with Trainer mean you better be turned out as well as you would be if you were heading into the show ring, minus the braids - we're talking deeply groomed and polished coat, mane wet down and combed over, tail flowing and shaving-free, horse's face washed, clean and fitted square pad, clean half pad, clean and straight protective boots, tack squeaky clean and adjusted properly, belly pad, and hooves oiled.  He cares a lot less about how the riders look, but I usually try to make sure I'm wearing well fitted breeches (not the $40 Aerocools whose waistband I have to roll down and only wear if nobody's around, for example), a polo, belt, and clean/polished-ish boots, hairnet, helmet, gloves, and stick.  If we're honest, my outfit doesn't really deviate too much from that on most days anyway, though I don't really tuck in my shirt if I'm just out puttering around without any trainers lurking nearby.  Occasionally I'll be a total rebel and wear a t-shirt. Gasp.

Anyway, after scrubbing Riley to within an inch of his life, we headed out to the ring about 15 minutes early.  On entering the outdoor ring, Riley decided he wasn't very interested since there were several new and TERRIFYING vehicles parked in the entrance, and threw quite a fit, at one point managing to throw himself around enough to get about halfway back to the barn.  After some convincing, he finally walked in the ring, with the viewing gallery observing me curiously. (Trainer travels with an entourage. #celebstatus)

I warmed up as Trainer sat on the phone, conducting some serious-sounding conversation in French, and as I finished my walk and trot passes and started into my canter work, paused long enough to shout a quite cheerful hello.  Then back to it.  Some time into it, I had settled Riley enough to start cantering a pole bounce that had been set out, and on my second time through and halting, Trainer hung up the phone and immediately started handing out instructions.

"What you are doing wizz your body? You are leaning back when you ask to halt, it throw everything off, it is not good. Just sit still and bend your elbow. Again."

So I cantered back through, had a good halt, then when Riley decided he would really rather NOT and go forward again, I leaned back and got "ahhh so close, non. Do it again."

Three times later I finally kept my (eff) body still, mutter mutter mutter.

After this I jumped a vertical, set around 3ft (no pansying around today, I guess), which was pretty decent, then another vertical, which was also pretty decent, then we almost immediately started putting some exercises together.  First I jumped a vertical, then turned sharply left inside another jump, then jumped down over another vertical set on a right angle to the first one.  I went through and did this really well.  Trainer then reversed it, and I did that really well, too!  All along he was coaching me on what my body was doing, holding it still (apparently I went back to doing dumb shit with my upper body while he was gone) and keeping the rhythm.  He always wants a slightly quieter rhythm than Assistant, so that was a little bit of a challenge.  It's amazing when you find it, though, and I started to put my fragile little egg back together - the one where, if that rhythm is perfect, I can find *any* jump from about ten strides away.  As we went along with Trainer helping me it went from pretty good to absolutely excellent.  I could basically do no wrong, though I started noticing the instructions got infinitely more specific... something I found interesting, and definitively means that there's been improvement, since he doesn't go there if he doesn't feel someone can handle it.

Not an egg. But not too far off from my mental image of said tenuous egg.

At one point we put together a course where we jumped up over a vertical, rollback/right turn to a longish two stride vertical-oxer combination, left turn up over an oxer, right turn/rollback to a vertical off a short turn.  The first time through, I was very slightly short coming into the two stride, and had to hustle a little to get out, which made us a little quick.  Trainer immediately snapped (but kindly) "now QUIET!", I got Riley back, and the rest of the course was fantastic.  We reversed it the next time, which made us jump the oxer, then have a bit of a long run and total rollback right to the two stride, and I saw both distances - the longish one or the shortish one.  Being indecisive at times, I went "errrf" and ended up having to kick a little, which immediately led to "get him back!" I don't know if any of you have ever tried to half halt through a two stride, but it ain't easy.  However, we managed to do so successfully, and jumped the rest of the course really well.  As I finished, Trainer went "you know, he get away from you a little, or you chase a little, but zen you gotta get heem back, you are not doing zis quickly enough, it is not very bad, but it zere." 

So the next time, I had a nice forward distance to an oxer he'd set up a bit bigger, then immediately sat back (with my stupid body still!) and gave a serious half halt. Riley folded back to me beautifully, and Trainer was shouting a blur of positive things ("ABSOLOUEMENT!!! SUPERB! EXCELLONT!") and we finished our course with that utterly perfect, patient, gorgeous, floating rhythm that, for whatever reason, Trainer seems to be able to manufacture JUST BY STANDING THERE.

To say this was the best lesson I've ever had wouldn't be much of a stretch - I had a day where I was really on, my horse was sharp but still paying attention, and I really took the instruction and applied it with total success right away.  Trainer seemed very happy, lots of cheerful words, a little chat about WEG after, etc etc.  All is right with the world.

Now he's off to Spruce for the week, and I wish him the very best success! $1.5 million dollar class, here we come! Who's gonna be glued to the live stream? Oh, that will be me. #obsessed

The rest of this week will be lessons with Assistant on both Mr. Riley and the totally cute gelding I've been schooling (who has been a total superstar) and then off to THREE beautiful straight weeks of horse showing starting next week.  I'm so excited I could die.  I am the luckiest girl in the world.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Sleepless Nights Roll On...

While I may view the World Equestrian Games as seven Christmases and two birthdays rolled into one, one thing they are sorely lacking this time around is the massive - no, obscene, really - amounts of sleep that usually come along with the aforementioned holidays.  That leaves me feeling very sad, because I value my sleep more than anyone I know.  Like if I know I'm getting less than ten - yes, ten - hours I have a little weep on the inside because I know I will be a zombie sooner rather than later.

With WEG being held over in France, which is six hours ahead, my sleep schedule is in chaos.  The best laid plans of mice and men went sadly awry last night when, despite my convictions that I would simply observe the first Canadian rider and then set my alarm for the US and Canadian team riders thereafter, I simply ended up staying up literally all night and getting four hours of sleep.


Tiffany Foster and Verdi III

For anyone who isn't as absurdly obsessed with World Championship show jumping as I am, and more specifically the Canadian team, the Canucks threw down four clear rounds yesterday. Led by trailblazer Yann Candele, he was followed by Tiffany Foster, then Ian Millar who hung in for individual 8th place, with Eric Lamaze bringing up anchor with yet another clear and 17th overall.  All the Canadian squad placed inside the top 50, and in a group of riders like this, that is INSANE.  Canada currently sits sixth overall as a team (out of 35 teams) but it's notable that they are but a single rail away from the lead. Which of course means that the top teams are currently bunched quite tightly.

Yann Candele and Showgirl

My home and native land also had a fantastic showing, and are currently sitting in third overall as a team.  As a side note I would also like to be some sort of amalgamation of Kent Farrington, McLain Ward, and Beezie Madden when I grow up.  Maybe we can throw them in a blender with Tiffany Foster, Eric Lamaze, Yann Candele, and Marcus Ehning with a dash of Philippaerts for good measure and grow the perfect equestrian in a test tube somewhere.  Anyway, the US squad is off to a great start, and it's fun to have two incredible teams to cheer for.  Even if my heart lies with the cold-weather dwellers.

Kent Farrington and Voyeur

I did actually do something that could be described as mildly productive today, and went out and tooted around on the ponies.  After being away for three excruciating pony-free days at a wedding in the States, I was very cheerful (despite lack of sleep) to see the darling Mr. Riley, who greeted me something like a black lab greets his owner after said owner has been away for several hours.  My god, that horse has a way of making you feel like the moon and stars revolve around your very existence.

Since I wanted to be nice, and also wasn't really sure if the staff had gotten around to hacking him, I decided to let Riley do one of his favorite activities, and turned him loose in the indoor ring to have a gallop, fart and buck.  He enthusiastically enjoyed this, but was done pretty quickly (for him) after about seven minutes of playing.  From there I did my usual "hmm, tacking up is really hard" and hopped on him bareback with halter and lead rope and we went for a little hike outside.  It's been raining like crazy, and sprinkled on us slightly while we meandered around out along some of the gentle hacking paths near the barn.  Riley only spooked once, at some nasty squirrels (who even freaked ME out - they were crazy today) and I was pleased to discover that I can sit a spook bareback.

Just derping along, as usual.

After our gentle stroll I headed back inside, since the outdoor ring was a huge puddle, and we did a little bit of light work.  I practiced my magical bareback sitting trot that I can't seem to replicate in a saddle for the life of me, we did our usual half passes, then cantered around over some poles that were out.  There was also a wee cavaletti up, maybe ten inches, and against my better judgement I cantered over that as well.  This is the closest I've ever really gotten to bareback "jumping" (if you can call 10 inches jumping) and well, it was a lot easier than I thought it would be.  I also saw my distance every time so that helped, but still.

After this we hacked back outside to cool down, then I gave Riley a nice warm bath and snuggled him into bed after stuffing about half a tupperware of Stud Muffins down his throat, which of course he did not mind in the slightest.

Post-Riley, I schooled the really cute young jumper gelding that I mentioned a week or two ago, whom I seem to have fully inherited.  As in, here's a horse, you devise a program, figure out his bitting preferences, get him fit and going, and we'll see you a couple times a week for jump schools, but have fun otherwise!  I am, perhaps needless to say, delighted, and spent the first week getting used to his somewhat unique way of going, and sprucing him up a little (mane pulling and a lot of deep currying, that sort of thing.)  He is a very sweet young guy and is constantly sticking his nose over to see what I'm doing.  I'll be picking out his feet in his stall, for example, and he'll wind his very long neck around and gently rest his nose on my arm inquiringly.  He prefers to take a look at everything I bring near him - brushes, wraps, saddle pads, etc - and I usually indulge him, which I think he really likes.  He has some rude habits, like pawing on the crossties, that we're working on and seem to be improving. Mostly he is adorable and sweet and kind, and basks in his newfound attention.  As far as riding, he is a bit out of shape currently, but he is a horse that tries his very best and then tries ten times harder when you tell him how very good he is.  He is a joy to ride and work with because of all of these lovely qualities and has already started to look for me when I arrive, and does a subtler version of Riley's "OH MY GOD MY MOM IS HERE I WANT TO TELL EVERYONE REALLY LOUDLY" which I find incredibly endearing.

Life through a set of grey ears.

Update as of 3:19 AM EST: Yann Candele is CLEAR for Canada in the first round of the Team competition at WEG! Squeeee!

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

WEG Rundown Countdown!

It's that time of every-four-years again!  That's right, everyone's favorite equestrian themed World Championship is occurring before our very eyes in Normandy, France.  I consider this event something like seven Christmases and at least two birthdays combined because, um, awesome.

Of course the competition has already been going on for about a week, with Dressage, Eventing, Reining, and Endurance already wrapped up.  However, this has only served (for me, anyway) to serve as an amuse-bouche for the main, ever so tasty course that is World Championship Showjumping.

Currently the first team event is due to begin in exactly one hour and twenty minutes.  Unfortunately I am not actually in Normandy myself, despite some vague efforts to get there (though reports from the Games make me glad I'm reclining in my Egyptian cotton sheets right now and not sitting under a leaking squat toilet at d'Ornano Stadium) and thus it is near 2 AM local time pour moi.  Alas, I am FAR, FAR too excited to sleep.  So the blogiverse gets to deal with me instead.  Bonjour, insomniac amis!

Because I have an hour and sixteen minutes to kill now, you are going to be subjected to my analysis and bios of Team North of the Border.

So without further ado...


Despite my birthplace being in the US, I more or less live in Canada these days, and have what may be considered close ties with the Canadian showjumping team.  Aside from the fact that one of the Team is my current trainer, the others literally compete in my backyard, and I've been incredibly lucky and fortunate to have the opportunity to observe them both actively compete and whilst meandering around on varying horses in warm-up and hacking.  The ones I'm not seeing every other week are people and riders I look up to, and whose names are whispered reverently around these parts.  I have IMMENSE respect for every single rider on this team and I am doing some serious finger crossing that Canada has a fantastic showing at WEG, all the horses come through sound and happy, and that at least one of our riders makes the Final Four.  Ideally this would be my trainer (I WOULD DIE. And so, I'm sure, would he...) but you know what I will not even be that picky at this point other than wishing it to be so.

Ian Millar and Dixson

Does Ian Millar even require an introduction? The guy has been to 10 Olympic Games, been a silver medallist, won fifty zillion dollars in varying Grand Prix events, and has two (grown) children who are also Grand Prix level showjumpers.  He's also about seven feet tall and has some of the best schooled horses I think I've ever seen, along with being one seriously charismatic guy.  "Captain Canada" has all the Championship experience in the world - literally more than any other rider - and is still laying it down ride after ride, with his most recent win being in the $100,000 Champions Grand Prix at Angelstone Tournaments on August 23.

Dixson has the interesting story of having been sired by the 2010 WEG World Champion rider's mount, Philippe LeJeune's fantastical stallion Vigo d'Arsouilles.  He is out of a mare called Sanna, by Olisco (Jalisco B) and is owned by Susan and Ariel Grange, who have Lothlorien Farm, and are long-time supporters of show jumping.  The owners also have the distinction of having another horse in the games, the very handsome chestnut stallion Lansdowne, ridden by Conor Swail of the Irish squad. Dixson is a powerful chap with some good results to his name, and paired with Ian's experience, should prove a formidable opponent.

Eric Lamaze and Zigali PS

Eric, ah Eric. Such a story behind him as a person and a rider.  Without diving into history and writing Eric's entire biography, suffice it to say he had a rough start but obviously emerged to become one of showjumping's shining stars.  A team Olympic silver medal, individual Olympic gold, WEG bronze, and countless Grand Prix victories around the world are his to bask in. Around here, people whisper about him like he's Jesus.  All the guys want to be him and all the girls want to be with him. You pretty much can't mention Eric without mentioning Hickstead, who (in my ever-humble opinion) was the finest showjumping horse to ever grace this earth, and I still tear up when I think of his untimely passing.  The horse of several lifetimes indeed. Luckily, Eric has unreal supporters in the form of Artisan Farms, who seem to enjoy collecting Grand Prix horses the way some people collect snow globes.  And thus Eric has one of the deeper strings of monstrously talented 1.60m ponies to pop around the tour.  He had a few options to bring to the table for this World's Championship Games, but ultimately chose Zigali.

Zigali PS is a KWPN gelding, 2004 edition, sired by Kigali and out of a mare called P.Zermie by Palfrenier (Joost).  He is a rather twiggy fellow who doesn't *look* that fast (or that coordinated, at times) but has emerged as one of Eric's more reliable mounts as of late.  In the spring, they won an enormous Grand Prix in Rome, the Piazza di Siena CSIO5*, and seems to be coming into his own at the right time.

Yann Candele and Showgirl

Yann having been named to the WEG team leads him in an interesting full circle. Born in Normandy, not far from the site of the World Games, the story goes that he popped over to Canada to visit his buddy Eric Lamaze for two weeks and just never left, apparently sleeping in one of Eric's closets for some time before figuring out more reasonable accommodation.  The rest is sort of history - after riding on various French teams and having a little toddle around Asia before ultimately settling in Canada, he became a Canadian citizen and was named to WEG and Olympic teams quickly thereafter. Though clearly no slouch prior to the acquisition of Showgirl in late 2013, the pairing has inarguably become one of Canada's most formidable opponents, with numerous double clear efforts in Nations Cups and top placings in Grand Prix events throughout Canada and Europe.  

Showgirl is a 2000 Selle Francais mare by Gold de Becourt, out of Vedette Normande (by Elf III).  She is all power and can jump the moon.  While not the fastest horse to ever walk the earth, her power and scope make her an ideal Nations Cup horse, and with Yann's clever riding and her big step and allergy to wood, they have seen some very notable results.  Showgirl is owned by the Watermark Group, which is a group composed of truly lovely people who all wanted to ensure Showgirl stayed in Canada... and with Yann.

Tiffany Foster and Verdi III

Okay, so I basically want to be Tiffany Foster when I grow up (should my growing up ever actually happen.)  If you want to talk about adversity, Tiffany's seen it, having clawed her way back from a broken back (!) and emerging as one of Canada's show jumping stars. She saw yet more adversity at the 2012 London Olympics, when she was (unfairly, in my, once again, humble opinion) DQ'd after some BS that occurred that I don't really want to get into.  Anyway, she's put that all behind her and now roams (and wins) the European and Florida circuits riding unbelievably fabulous horses and doing interior design in her spare time, while remaining effusive and adorable.  Like I said, I want to be her when I grow up.

Her mount for the Games is Verdi III, by Hors La Loi II out of I-Cantessa (Cantus).  He's probably my favorite Tiffany ride and seems to suit her well.  He's beautiful, powerful and tucks up his little knees to his eyeballs when he jumps.  With Tiffany's textbook equitation and beautiful, flowing style, the Canadians are going to be in a good place.  Verdi III is owned by Artisan Farms, already covered in Eric's bio!

Chris Sorensen - Bobby

Though not widely known on the World scene, Chris has been slowly chipping away at it and seems to have found a Championship partner in his big black gelding, Bobby.  Relatively new to the Team situation, Chris has started to shine at just the right moment, with a helpful score for Canada in the Nations Cup at Aachen and good results in the Spruce Meadows summer series.  Chris also rides a few other fairly adorable horses, one called Wriompf that I want to put in my pocket, except he would probably kick me.

Bobby is a 2002 KWPN gelding by Concorde, out of Eamelusiena (Joost).  He is really a very tall creature, and seems to have started sorting out where his legs go.  He is a powerful jumper and he and Chris make a nice pair.  Bobby is owned by Chris Sorensen and Britland Hughes. 

Okay.... now it's 3:08 AM, I managed to actually waste an hour and twenty minutes doing this, and NOW THE SHOWJUMPING BEGINS!!!