And, it began here …

Deborah visiting with her Auntie Bella’s Ranger Man (Jul 2000)


Their love of horses led them into the hunter sport.

Deborah (330) and Elizabeth (183) with their first ribbons won at a club level horse show (Jul 2003)


The ribbons are nice. The shows are fun. Their love of horses is enduring.

Deborah, 16, with her champion, Comet (Aug 2010)


Elizabeth, 20, with her lovely Lilith (Sep 2015)


Embarking on their 2016 season today, my daughters will begin again in Texas.


About the photos

All four photos were taken using a Canon FTb 35-mm SLR. The first two photos were made using Kodak T-MAX Professional 100 and the latter two with Kodak Gold (ASA 200).

Inside The Arena

The next rider and horse are introduced. There are a few cheers and shouts, some polite applause. The butterflies experienced while waiting are gone. The moment, the atmosphere, is quite electric. Both rider and horse are focused. A few seconds later, they start the course. The aim is a clean ride, no rails down, with the best time.

Before the ride is the more interesting part. Each rider has their routine. Some will go through visualization exercises, others will watch everything around them. A few will seem to be unaffected. The horses, they seem to be unfazed by it all.

NWSS 2016 – Secret Agent Man (left) and Comet (right) meet one another as Elizabeth and Deborah ride them to the warm-up area


NWSS 2016 – Deborah studies her crib sheet on the course layout


NWSS 2016 – Tara and Brie await their turn near the start area


While much of the riding season is done outdoors, riding an indoor venue has certain challenges. Many indoor venues have seating that brings their audience close to the action. It can cause sensory issues for horses. It is part visual and part auditory. Since horses do not see stereoscopically, their depth of field view is shallow when both eyes are focused in the same direction. They may perceive the audience as being closer than they actually are. The auditory aspect is that sound does not disperse quickly indoors, and most indoor venues are quite live.

With horses and riders having limited indoor experience, the challenges can quickly become issues. Horses that are normally calm in outdoor venues can become more skittish indoors, poorly processing the flood of sensory input. Riders, including experienced ones, can misinterpret the skittishness displayed by their mounts as pent-up energy. This is where a rider needs to thoroughly understand and be knowledgeable of their horse. If not, there is a good chance their competition ride will be ragged at best. Lilith is the one who becomes difficult in an indoor arena. Elizabeth can usually calm her with some gentle strokes on her neck. If Lilith doesn’t settle, Elizabeth gives her more rein to lessen Lilith’s anxiety. In the end, it is all about trust between horse and rider. It has to be unbreakable.

Las Vegas National GP 2015 – trusting Secret Agent Man completely, Elizabeth gives him as much rein he wants


Indoors or outdoors, winning ribbons, a top five finish, an oversized cardboard check are nice to have. However, nothing is better than a smiling rider and a smiling horse.

after the blue ribbon: Elizabeth and Lilith (San Juan Capistrano, Jun 2014)


Making Of A Champion

Other installments in this series:

The Test Event

Before the riding season begins in full swing, the RRC brings their riders together. Known as the “test event”, it is part individualized training, part mentoring session, and part recruiting effort for the more promising learn-to-ride students to continue with riding. In other years, the test event is used as an open tryout for seasoned equestrians to be sponsored by RRC. The test event is seen as a fun activity where everybody talks horses.

RRC Test Event 2013 – Megan riding Viceroy in an open tryout, coming back from an 18-month injury layoff

While the springtime weather can be rather unpredictable here, this club activity is usually held in late May or early June. For the 6-8 more seasoned riders, like my daughters, they have missed the opportunity to participate since they’ve already started their individual riding seasons. With the March and April weather being very mild over the past few years, Mark and Trish decided to schedule this year’s test event for this past weekend. What could go wrong?

Last Friday, another winter storm arrived. While Mark and Trish mulled postponing the event, they decided to move ahead. In the end, it worked out well.

*     *     *     *

Day One: Mentoring & Recruiting –

Deborah, Elizabeth and Tara looked forward to the first day, especially leading the mentoring session. The first half of the session, done off saddle, was to reinforce of having fun and keeping it fun while gaining the experience. Second point, allow a horse to be a horse. Taking a day off, a week off, from practicing and competition will do wonders for both horse and rider. When it is time to go back to the routine, both will be fresher for having the time away. Third point, be practical with the goals. Riding in “B” and “C” rated shows provides the experience. In “A” and “AA” rated shows, the competition is keener. Keep the goals manageable. Fourth point, no excuse making. Rather than making an excuse on why this and that can’t be done, be patient, take it apart and figure out why.

RRC Test Event 2016 – Candace (Happy Girl) having fun in the covered arena

While it was not groundbreaking advice, it is the type that needs to be practiced – even for polished riders like my daughters. It is about dedication and drive as much as it is about having fun.

The second half of the mentoring session was my daughters working one-on-one with three riders new to the hunter/jumper sport. They mostly worked on getting into good practice routines. A lot of new hunters make the mistake of not wanting to do exercises, such as grids or circles, and working on their equitation skills. When a rider does neither, especially in their development, they often become frustrated with their lack of progress.

RRC Test Event 2016 – new hunter, Jessica, riding her first circle exercise under Deborah’s careful watch

*     *     *     *

Day Two – Individualized Training

Snow was falling at a rather heavy rate on Sunday morning, more heavily when we arrived at RRC. The girls checked on their horses, which spent the night in the main horse barn. Though it was 6:00 am, they expected more activity. Trish came in shortly later, surprised to see we were on time. She advised Deborah, Elizabeth and Tara that they may have the entire morning to use the indoor arena. Two other riders scheduled to follow them had already called to cancel their training sessions. Okay was the word.

RRC Test Event 2016 – Elizabeth riding one of the RRC ponies through the snow while waiting for her lesson

With their season beginning in two weeks, in Texas, the girls said they could always use more practice. This week and next, their training schedule is a bit compressed with the spring term coming to an end. Both Mark and Trish remain impressed at how well the girls are riding.

RRC Test Event 2016 – Snow Princess Tara with Brie (mom Laurie’s favorite)

When they begin their season, at least there will be no snow. But, they are ready if it happens.

Birding Assignment: Up In The Sky

It is one of those things. You’re sitting at your desk, gazing out the window and watching birds fly back and forth. They are of all sizes, small and big. They range from sparrows to the large crows, who have begun to repopulate the region. (The crow population suffered horribly from the West Nile outbreak in 2003.) And, the robin population seems to be higher in numbers also.

robin: on sentinel watch (from Jun 2014)

Then, you see a large bird take flight, taking a direction which nearly goes overhead. You adjust your gaze at the large bird. Expecting to see a large crow, you are surprised by what you see. A bird with white head feathers and dark brown feathers on the body and wings. There is only one bird, or should I say raptor, fitting that description – a bald eagle. And, if there is one, there is another.

In this part of Colorado, an eagle, bald and golden, has not been seen for many, many years. The closest population is located at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, now National Wildlife Refuge, east of Denver.

The camera, that was in the other room, still in the camera bag. Ready for tomorrow’s all day practice session.

If it’s an eagle, we’re on watch now. Our neighborhood is an ideal hunting ground for raptors with plump doves and rock pigeons, squirrels and the like. Several Cooper’s Hawks have been hunting here for the past few years.

Unsettled Training

It is fair to say their training schedule over the past few weeks has been unsettled. From the passing of their grandma to late-season winter storms, the schedule has been all over the board. Remarkably, though, my daughters have said it has been a good spring – one of their best. They’ve been able to practice well. Their coaches, Mark and Trish, have said they appear to be in mid-season form. The horses are riding well, the girls are riding well. Mark and Trish have added they are quite proud of my girls in how they have handled the unsettled nature of their spring. They have kept everything in perspective.

Comet: “When are we going riding?”

Though my daughters and their horses are quite eager for their season to begin, it is not an “every second on the saddle” training approach. They’ve let their horses be horses while they review the video of the training sessions and compare notes. And, of course, there’s always time for a little loving and play before returning to a practice session.

Deborah sharing a Jonathan apple with a freshly groomed Comet

Elizabeth and Mr. Ed playing “How tall are you?”

Once it is time to get back to training, everyone is ready.