Lilith: The Heart of A Champion

 

[This is the first part of a special series, “Making of A Champion”, contributed by my equestrian daughters. This post is by my daughter, Elizabeth.]

I am a hunter/jumper equestrian. It is my sport. It is my passion. And, it may be my profession.

There is much, much more to equine sports than most would imagine. It begins and ends with loving and understanding horses. It is knowing what and how they think. What they can and cannot do. Whatever they do together, a horse and their rider must have a bond, that special connection they can rely upon.

We came across Lilith four years ago at a horse auction. She was a four year old mare. Though she was born to be a racing thoroughbred, her owners quickly learned Lilith was not meant for the racetrack. She would have good workout and practice sessions, but come race day, Lilith, invariably, would finish close to last. Entered into a stakes race, Lilith’s performance was considered to be very disappointing. The only interest she drew was from a dressage trainer. Lilith’s shiny black coat was her primary attraction. In dressage training for nearly six months, she wasn’t learning well. So poorly went her training, it didn’t take long for Lilith to develop a reputation as difficult to manage, and one with a volatile temperament. Accordingly, she was shopped around at six auctions in three months time.

The trip to the auction was arranged by our riding coach, Mark. It was one of many lessons he wanted Deborah and me to learn about horses. “The more you know about horses, the more it will improve your skill set.” Growing up the son of a working hand on a horse ranch, Mark knows a lot about horses. He can look at a horse and have an instant recognition of what it can and cannot do. We eventually came to the portion of the yard where Lilith was standing with two other horses. While looking at Lilith’s fact sheet, Mark noticed how easily people gave up on her. He also spied the attention Deborah and I were paying to Lilith. So much so, the two horses with Lilith came for their share of loving. But, it was Lilith who captured my eye and captured my heart.

Lilith on an off day from competition in Iowa (Aug 2014)

 

My parents had made it clear attending the auction was a learning session, and their checkbooks would remain closed. Also, Deborah and I were beginning to have success in the show ring. Would adding another horse dilute the progress we were showing? Deborah knew Lilith had become my horse in that moment, and told me so. I knew too. It didn’t take long for me to start pestering my dad first, then my mom about Lilith. The “please, please, please” began. I promised to contribute my meager winnings to buy Lilith. Though they said no, mom and dad eventually huddled up with Mark. They were obviously discussing if Lilith could be developed into a hunter/jumper. Deborah tried eavesdropping on their conversation, but mom caught on and told her to stay with me.

The starting bid for Lilith was pegged to begin at $7500, $8500 for pre-auction sale. Both prices were considered to be much too high, especially for a horse deemed “unmanageable”. Mom and dad offered her owner $5200 as our one and only offer. With the other horses not selling well at auction, her owner became the former owner. And, my dad, technically, became Lilith’s new owner. Condition: no new saddle for Christmas. That was fair enough. I gave plenty of kisses to mom and dad. And, Deborah and I kissed Lilith, whispering sweet words into her ears.

Upon taking her to the Rustler practice facility, Mark saw what made Lilith “unmanageable”. A few whip marks. Though noted on her vet report, we could have voided the sale for “failing to disclose” on her bill of sale. We had decided if she didn’t take to the training, we were going to keep her. Mark had a sense Lilith was a good horse. She only needed stability, and a commitment of a reliable owner.

Elizabeth adjusting Lilith’s reins and bit during a training session (Jun 2013)

 

Once Trish and Mark began to work with her, they found Lilith to be a natural jumper. There was no awkwardness in clearing low and medium height fences. That same ease of clearing fences continued as she moved to higher fence heights. And, that problem with speed – Lilith had plenty of it. It was only waiting to be discovered. After six months in training, Lilith was ready to practice regularly with Mr. Ed and Comet.

Lilith has developed into a very competitive hunter/jumper. She is a combination of grace, speed and strength in the show ring. She is far from being a “difficult to manage” horse. Her temperament, very sweet. Focusing her attention, at times, can be difficult. But, once she begins a practice session, or in the show ring, her attention is undivided.

All she needed was someone to believe in her.

 

About the author

Elizabeth Ksenia Ramos is a sophomore attending the University of Colorado. Her degree studies is concentrated in the field of chemistry, ACS certified Bachelor of Science program. She graduated with honors from Machebeuf Catholic High School in Denver in 2013.

She is the most decorated equestrian in Rustler Riding Club history, winning Rider of the Year, Horse of the Year and Regulator of the Year awards on multiple occasions. Additionally, she has won multiple blue ribbons, and other placement ribbons, with Mr. Ed and Lilith.

Grand Prix Day

At the horse show, “Grand Prix Day” has a very electric atmosphere. For horse and rider, it’s keeping the day, and the routine, the same like any other. The morning routine is the same, the walkaround is the same, the easy ride around is the same. Like every other athlete, riders have their rituals too. The tack and saddle has to be just right; the same with attire. While staying loose is the priority, keeping it that way until warm-up time can be a task in itself.

After the 8:00am mandatory schooling session for grand prix competitors at the National Western Stock Show (NWSS), it was a matter of staying relaxed for the remainder of the day. The grand prix event, itself, was one of the marquee events of the night. Deborah, Elizabeth and Tara all have their separate routines. By early afternoon, the girls were ready to roll. With the event scheduled to start at 7:30pm, it becomes a matter of waiting. And, waiting. If  there is one thing we excel at, as a family, it’s people watching.

walking the catwalk

 

Andrea carefully walks through the crowd, dodging something on the ground

 

The reprieve to the long wait came at roughly 4:30pm. It was time for the riders to have their ground inspection of the course, gauging sight lines and riding lines. Last year’s course was a technically demanding one. This year’s course was one that definitely tested equine stamina and the rider’s ability to adjust. The call for the first group of riders to warm-up finally came at 6:45pm, about 15 minutes behind schedule. Not too bad, in the horse world, with regard to schedule times. The girls begin their stretching exercises. As the first rider enters into the start area, the girls have changed into their riding gear. Laurie checks out Tara’s wrist, a lingering injury since last summer. Then, Laurie checks Deborah’s slight ankle sprain before she pulls on her tall English riding boot. With two riders remaining in the top half of the draw, it’s a short chat their riding coach, Mark. He was straight to the point: “You have the skills, you have the tools. Just have fun. Winning will take care of itself.”

the other kind of nervous – Trish, working as the “second” for the girls, waits for Deborah to finish her ride

 

Deborah on Secret Agent Man tightens a sweeping right hand turn on the course while her eyes are three fences ahead

 

The electricity in the arena was tremendous. With a very appreciative audience, every rider had their moment to shine. Deborah, Elizabeth and Tara had very solid rides, finishing in the top six.

Easy Like Sunday

When it is like this outside …

you do this …

Miss Pinky under her futon

 

The winter storm took it’s time arriving, but it got here late Saturday afternoon. It laid 3½ inches of snow in about an hour’s time.  Underneath the snow is a sheet of ice from the “wintry mix” we had for most of the day. Today, it has been snowing all day – alternating between light snow and heavy snow. The snow is expected to end sometime after midnight with the possibility of snow flurries for most of tomorrow. By the time everything moves on, we should have 6-10 inches of snow. And, it’ll be cold through next weekend.

It seems Mr. Groundhog has made himself scarce for now.

Between Storms

The snow from Sunday and Monday is a distant memory, giving way to blue skies later today – albeit a chilly day. This respite from winter will be a short-lived one with the weather guessers at the National Weather Service and local TV suggesting a colder, snowier winter storm is taking aim at the coming weekend.

An escape from the cold, though, is not in the cards. In Atlanta, for business, it’s expected to be a chilly few days also. While Metro Atlanta was spared from an ice storm overnight, AccuWeather has forecasted for a possibility of ice at week’s end.

May everyone have a good remainder of the week.

Getaway Weekend

Sunny and warm, the perfect weekend to step back and relax. It doesn’t take much to call it a “Getaway Weekend”. Our devices are idled for the weekend. Better yet, Laurie and Andrea were not on call.

After a day of riding for the girls, Amanda had invited us, earlier in the week, to stay into the evening for a cookout. It was one of her handful of days off on the ranch. “Just have a jacket since we’ll be outside and have an appetite” was her only requirement.

a roaring fire

 

firing the grill – mostly wood, some charcoal

 

grill #1 – beef skewers

 

grill #2 – hamburger, hamburger

 

Of course, we did not come empty-handed. A layered cake, two dozen roses.

A most enjoyable evening, it ended late in the night. An early arrival on Sunday morning, the girls squeezed in more riding time with their horses before the change in weather. With a strong chill in the air by mid-morning, it didn’t take long for the snow to follow.

Lilith finishing her hay

 

Though the Sunday part of the “Getaway Weekend” was cut short, it was a very good weekend.