The Fourth Year Begins

Deborah, Elizabeth and Tara begin their fourth year of medical school today.

pre-dawn arrival (University of Colorado Hospital, Aug 03 2021)

It is an exciting time for them and their fourth-year classmates. While they will continue to be referred to as Mr. or Ms., it is the closest to being an MD without being one. They will go on morning rounds everyday. A few will be required to go on rounds in the late afternoon. A fewer number may be required to go on rounds over the weekend.

The primary task of the fourth year is to watch, listen, ask questions, answer questions, and study without the safety net of the classroom or laboratory. If they do not know the answer to a question, replying “I do not know” is allowed. All is more exacting, more demanding. It is about being a complete professional.

Trish has noted Deborah, Elizabeth and Tara understand the pressure. “This is only one step of many. They are my best. They will do fine in this arena too.” 

end of the day (University of Colorado Hospital, Aug 03 2021)

Lainie

A special post by Andrea Kanakredes, RN, MSN.

She is one of the finest, young surgical RNs in our department. Bright, mentally tough, dedicated, unafraid are often used to describe Lainie. She believes in making a difference. “To be the difference,” she says, “you need to be all in. No half measures.” Many talk about being a difference maker, but are not willing, or unable, to take that next step. Not Lainie.

up close with Lainie at the start of shift (University of Colorado Hospital, Jun 17 2021)
photo credit: Andrea Kanakredes, RN, MSN

Lainie works with sickest of the sick on Floor 10. Often, she is the one who sits holding the hand of a person living their last moments. “They are aware when they begin drawing their last breaths, so afraid of dying alone.” The hardest for Lainie was when she sat with an infant only days ago. The baby had a tight grip of her finger, then she didn’t. Lainie was inconsolable. “Goddamnit! I’m not supposed to cry. She’s not the first, nor the last.” I whispered to Lainie, “We’re human. Outside these walls, no one will ever know what it is like. They may say the words, say they understand, but they will never, ever know. We are the firewall. You’re the one making the difference, not them.” 

Not feeling well on Thursday, Lainie decided to lay down on the couch in the nurses’ lounge for a short nap. When Carol Anne came to wake her, she found Lainie to be non-responsive. After a few tense minutes, Laurie was able to revive her. “You scared us, young lady. You’re going to stay with us for a few days.” Lainie was none to happy. “Does that mean I have it.” Laurie said she did. Lainie cursed a bit. I told her, “You’ve been hanging with Elizabeth a little too much.” She smiled. “I suppose I have.”

Thursday night was a restful one. I called Elizabeth, Friday morning, to let her know Lainie was ill. “She is going to be better?” she asked. I said Laurie was her attending. “Fucking good. She has the best.” For much of the day, Lainie was her conversant-self. She asked about her patients. We often replied with “How are you?” Other than being tired, she said she felt okay. “Not ready to work, just washed out.” She even called Elizabeth, congratulating on her season, and also talking about everything else.

A couple hours later, it turned into a hellish nightmare. In a meeting with Dr. Routh, deputy chief, on staffing levels, Laurie and I received a 9-1-1 to return. We returned to find Lainie was coding. Laurie let Dr. Gaines continue leading the resuscitation effort. When she asked for time, Dr. Gaines would step out, and Laurie would step in, taking over the resuscitation. “Time?” One of the nurses replied, “Forty-five.” Dr. Gaines stepped out.

“C’mon Lainie, you can do it.” If anyone could bring back Lainie, it is Laurie. That is how good she is. Lainie’s IVs were full-open, and had taken four doses of epi, each progressively more. When Laurie thought she had a pulse, she would lose it. Lainie’s monitor would start alarming again. “C’mon, Lainie, we’re almost there. I need a ride of a lifetime from you, a clear round.” Laurie was sure Lainie understood the equestrian reference.

“I need a cardiac needle and a cardiac surgical kit.” Routh walked in. “Delay that order. What’s the time?” A nurse reluctantly answered, “Fifty-five.” He replied, “Call it, Dr. Westin. If you don’t, I will.”

“Reed, get this mother-fucker off my floor.” Reed is a physically-imposing, gentle giant of a nurse. Routh refused to leave. “Get the mother-fucker off my floor now. Physically remove him if you must. He’s costing me time.” Reed motioned for Mary Alice to come over and help him remove Routh. Mary Alice is the one you really don’t want to mess with in a confrontation. She worked on a mental ward before switching to surgery.

Soon as Routh was out of the room, what Laurie requested was set up. “Get her ready, if I have to cut.” A change of gloves. Face shield gone. A new mask. Lainie’s gown, cut open. Her chest painted with betadine. “Everybody not named Andrea Kanakredes, out.” Laurie worked with urgency. Routh’s interference cost precious seconds, time Lainie couldn’t afford to lose.

Lainie came to Colorado with her family when she was 15. She wanted to become a better showjumper. While her discipline was dressage, her equestrian pursuits was leading her to showjumping. Lainie read everything she could about Trish, concluding she was the one who could help her transition into showjumping. She spent more than 18 months lobbying Trish for a training slot. Trish was reluctant to take her on, but did with no guarantees. Lainie knew she would be taking the backseat to Deborah, Elizabeth and Tara.

Lainie at practice with Rusty (RRC, March 07 2014)

They welcomed Lainie into their ranks. She and Elizabeth became close friends. In high school, they often found themselves in the same class. Beside horses, they share a love for music. Like Elizabeth, Lainie has a wonderful voice, but prefers singing in the background. Elizabeth talked Lainie into doing a solo for next month’s One Night Only concert. “You’ll  be mag with a band behind you. Plus, horns and strings. Living the dream.”

Though her equestrian dream did not come true, Lainie stayed with her riding lessons. “You never know when lightning will strike.” Trish loves having Lainie around. And, she loves being around horses. She is a positive influence for the younger riders. “Only a handful ride at the top of the sport. We all have the passion. It just happens not to be our destiny.”

Lainie developed an interest in nursing. She asked what it was like. “It is the hardest job you’ll ever love,” I said. “The hours are long. There will be heartache, but there will be the smiles. We are the frontline. We are the only line. There is no one else.”

With the cardiac syringe loaded, Laurie punched it through straight to Lainie’s heart. She pushed a large bolus of epi to stimulate the heart. Hopefully it would be enough. It wasn’t. “Get Megan and Kendra in here.” Laurie was opening Lainie’s chest for a direct heart massage. She worked quickly but cleanly.

The moment of truth. Massaging the heart. A cardiac surgeon, who had come up to the floor, watched from a monitor. He paid Laurie the highest of compliments, “The finest piece of surgery I’d seen. Textbook.”

The massage worked. Laurie was able to restart Lainie’s heart.

For the moment, Lainie is deep in the woods. It is our turn to keep the vigil. Carol Anne has taken the most hours sitting with her. She did the same for David, when he was deep in the woods.

We’re keeping the faith.

Travel Day: North Ranch

On the day we left, we circled this date on the calendar. The day of our return.

It is bittersweet in a sense, our homecoming. Exchanging the unfamiliar for the familiar. Exchanging the exciting for the everyday. The air is different. The view is different. The sounds are different.

sunset on the range (Mon, Jul 26 2021)

It is North Ranch. We are home.

    *     *     *     *

We arrived shortly before noon, on Monday. Griffin and the horses were expected to arrive an hour later. Tejano music could be heard coming from the barn. Arturo was busy finishing the barn set up he had started over the weekend, at Griffin’s request. He brought me inside the barn to show the set up. It was most impressive. “The plaques your daughters earned in New York and California here and here.” I told Arturo I appreciated the work, that he really didn’t need to do it. When I asked Arturo how much I owed him, he said nothing. Griffin would explain later when she arrived.

Griffin arrived 45 minutes later, with the horse trailer just behind. “Arturo, show me.” They walked inside the barn, with him explaining the detail work. The daughters stood outside watching. Busy unloading their gear, they hadn’t been inside the barn yet. The girls were beginning to wonder what was up. Juan and Wes arrived. Griffin asked, “Arturo, do I unload?” A puzzled Elizabeth began to ask, “What do you …” I told Elizabeth, Deborah and Tara to hold their thoughts.

Arturo smiled broadly, “Yes.”

The horses recognized their surroundings as they came off the trailer.

Elizabeth, Deborah and Tara walked into the barn. They saw the plaques and a few of ribbons from the just-ended campaign. “This is my gift to you,” Griffin spoke quietly. “Thank you for bringing me along, in trusting me. To care for you, to care for your magnificent horses. When I said, ‘this is the first time, first place, where I really felt I belonged,’ I meant every word. Thank you again.”

Denver International CSI2*: Finale

They were the last presser of the day. A few photos were taken. One asked for a maskless shot. The request was ignored as the daughters settled into their seats.

no frills media center: table, chairs, and background (CHP, Jul 25 2021)

A change of clothes and freshened up, they were ready to answer a few questions. First, the introductions by the FEI media representative, Susan. Elizabeth, Deborah and Tara. On the side, Trish. “The ground rules are simple and easy, stay on topic, as listed in today’s media guide. No controversial questions or topics. Step to the microphones, give your name and media affiliation. Ask your question. Lastly, politeness counts. Please remember, they are here as a courtesy.”

The first question was for Elizabeth. “You have been on a tear of sorts, going 21-4 in 25 starts before this show. Then, you completely dominate your events here. Could you describe what the experience is like, the amount of pressure, the associated feelings.”

“Certainly. First thing you notice is everybody is watching you, how you carry yourself. Impressions, in a sport like ours, matters. You want to be good with those who follow the sport religiously. You also want to be good with the occasional or less frequent follower. To be grounded, to be genuine. For myself, I do not keep a running tally of how I’m doing, but I do know if I’m doing well or not. There’s really no way of avoiding or ignoring that awareness.

“The amount of pressure, it’s there. You want to do well in every event, but, of course, you can’t always finish at the top of the leaderboard. Top three, top five finishes are difficult to achieve on a consistent basis. I have been, we have been, very fortunate to have done well these last two, three seasons.”

For Deborah and Tara, “The question asked by a colleague before the show started, does your sister, Elizabeth, ever let either of you win?”

“No!” Tara replied laughingly. “All kidding aside, she is a very gifted rider. A tremendous competitor. Nothing is a given in our sport. Elizabeth pushes us to be better, we push her to be better.” Deborah added, “Her success is our success too. We support each other in every way we can. When we are in that top spot, Elizabeth is always there to congratulate us, to praise us. It is the same with every other rider we compete with.”

The next question was for all three. “All of you use the phrase, ‘compete with,’ and hardly use ‘compete against.’ Can you tell us why?”

“We’ve made plenty of friends on the circuit, past and present,” Deborah began. “Out of respect for them, as a person and fellow rider, competitor, we prefer using compete with.” Elizabeth continued, “In jumper, we’re all riding against the clock, in the fastest time and cleanly as possible. It’s never, ‘I wish so-and-so rides slow and takes down a few rails along the way.’ We’ve all been there with a very bad day, with a very bad meet. And, we’ve all had the best of days. It is an acknowledgement we’re in this together.”

The hardest question of the session. “Ms. Westin, we heard about the disagreement you had with your groom, Ms. Griffin, the other day. Could you elaborate more on the circumstances of the disagreement?”

Several seconds had passed before Tara proceeded to answer.  “We weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on a matter. The disagreement we were having is resolved. The matter is closed and behind us. And, yes, we made up.”

A follow-up on the previous question, “Is Ms. Griffin staying with the team?” All eyes turned to me for an answer.

“Yes, Griffin will be staying with the team for however long she wants to remain with us. She is one of the finest grooms in the equestrian world. We are very fortunate to have Griffin with us and RRC. If she wasn’t, most likely she would be in Tokyo in support of a top-level rider and horse combination.”

Final question for all three. “All three of you will be returning to medical school soon. Will you continue to compete?”

The daughters looked at each other, before Deborah decided to answer. “Yes, we will continue to compete as our individual schedules permit. Whether at this level or some other level, after graduation, we don’t know. We still have irons in the fire, so to speak. It includes showing.”

Media rep, Susan, wrapped the session. “If you wish to ask additional questions, you may make your request through the FEI or through their personal representative. Thank you all for coming.”

Several more photos were taken of the daughters before leaving the media center. It was one of the more pleasant encounters.

Denver International CSI2*: Flash Friction

A grumble here. A grumble there. “What’s that again?”

The overcast and low clouds was adding to their gray mood, Saturday morning. It was taking the daughters longer than normal to gather their gear for the day. A clearly impatient Griffin had already called twice after missing the scheduled 7:30 am arrival time at CHP.

Arriving shortly after 8:00 am, Griffin and Tara got into it very heatedly. “I couldn’t find my slicker, okay?” I told both to stand down; we were going to one of the outlying paddocks for a short discussion. A surprised Deborah and Elizabeth watched and listened from the side. “Don’t you two have something to do?” They nodded yes. “Well, get to it.”

The paddock was far enough from prying eyes and prying ears. I told both Griffin and Tara to shut up and listen. “I’ve had enough of the offhand remarks both of you directed at each other for the past two days. It ends right here, right now. Don’t give me any of this alpha shit, and don’t give me any of this ‘fuck it then’ shit either. If you can’t work together, neither of you belong. This fucking team will die, here and now, in this field.”

“Tara, stay or go?” She looked around, she looked at the ground. “Tara, I need an answer. Stay or go?” She looked back at the barns. “Stay.”

“Your turn, Griffin, stay or go?” Her reaction was the same as Tara’s. “Griffin?” I saw it was becoming an emotional moment for her. “This is the first time, first place, where I really felt I belonged. You respect me. You trust me. I want to stay if you let me.”

“Okay. The last time I checked, a workout time is scheduled for 9:00 am. According to my watch, and it’s running ahead, you have twenty minutes. No excuses, get it done.”

With the order of things back on track, Griffin and the daughters, working together, had Comet, Cameron and Lilith ready to go. They were waiting for their turn in the holding area, on time. A flash, then the loudest crack of thunder. It caught everyone’s attention. The lightning strike had to be very close. The first events of the day were quickly halted. Everyone and every horse was rushed under cover. A 45-minute lightning delay imposed. A couple more rumbles, followed by on-and-off rain. “At least our event is this afternoon,” Deborah said. Their events on Thursday and Friday were at the start of the day.

Whatever the source of friction was between Griffin and Tara, it must have been resolved. They were laughing about something during the delay. Before it ended, Griffin came over. “I need to apologize to you. I offer no excuse for my unprofessional behavior. I will understand if you were to let me go. I will understand if you don’t bring me back, later this season and next season.” I asked Griffin, “Has it been resolved?” She said it was. “Well then, there’s no need to apologize.”

Denver International CSI2*: Arrival

With the international equestrian world focused on the Olympics, in Tokyo, a piece of that world arrived in Colorado. The Denver International CSI2*, part of the Split Rock Jumping Tour.

Three separate pressers were held on Tuesday to introduce the Denver International to the local and equestrian sports media. The daughters were asked several days ago if they would like to participate. “It would go a long way to have Colorado girls welcome the tour.” While their relations with the media haven’t been the best, they mulled it over before agreeing.

At the presser, a media representative from the Split Rock tour and another from the FEI. Their roles was to keep the presser moving along. No controversial questions or topics.

The FEI representative proceeded to introduce Elizabeth, Deborah and Tara, along with Trish. When Trish was introduced, her career stat line was cited. “She is the formerly 12th ranked showjumper in the world, with 1,242 career starts and 207 career wins.” Every time Trish’s career stats are cited, the more impressive they become. The least impressed is Trish.

After the introductions, the first question was the most obvious, why they chose to ride this show. “We had heard a number of good things regarding the tour,” Elizabeth started. “It is very competitive. We were asked to be part of the inaugural Santa Fe International in 2019. Our calendar did not allow our participation. If our 2020 calendar allowed it, we would have been in Santa Fe. But, of course, a pandemic got in the way. And, if there was a 2021 show in Santa Fe, we would try to make it. We were surprised when the Santa Fe show was moved here to Denver, with a date compatible to our schedule.”

The next question was directed to Trish, why has it taken so long for an FEI/CSI show to come to Colorado. “A lot of factors go into planning a CSI level show. Is it part of a professional tour, like Rolex, Longines or Split Rock? Who is available? And, of course, the corporate sponsorships and prize monies. It takes about 9-12 months to get everything pinned down, obtain permissions and win commitments. It can become very complex awfully fast.”

To Deborah and Tara, does Elizabeth let you win? “It seems she doesn’t,” Tara replied, “but Elizabeth is a tremendous rider and competitor. Her fundamentals are impeccable. She’s very decisive on the saddle.” Deborah added, “Underestimating Elizabeth is at your own risk. Leave an opening, she’ll take it. Make a mistake, she will capitalize on it. She rarely, rarely makes mistakes or leaves an opening. She is that good, if I may say.”

“Am I invincible?” Elizabeth asked. “Not a chance. If I’m behind, I’ll try to find a way to win. If I’m ahead, I’m hanging on.”

The other night, at the Grand Prix event, Elizabeth, what did you say to Tara?

“That’s between us,” she replied. “The other night, Tara rode magnificently. She had me beat. If Tara didn’t rub on the last fence, she wins. How it ended tells you this is a sport of fractions.”

Trish, which role do you prefer, professional rider or coach? “There is an excitement when you’re in the fray, so to speak. The not so good side is having to get up at 4 in the morning to throw up on Grand Prix day.” Pointing to her husband, Mark, “Having that guy with me, the best decision I ever made.”

Last question, who will be the toughest to beat. Deborah and Tara said, “This one to our right.” Elizabeth: “All of them.” Trish: “The one who wins.”

It all begins today.

* Photo – Tara and Brie during a an afternoon practice session (CHP, Jul 20 2021).

Summer In The Rockies: Perfection

Sunny and bright. Not a cloud in the sky. Even the haze, from distant wildfires, had dissipated during the overnight hours. You could not ask for a more perfect morning.

Saturday was bustling with activity at Colorado Horse Park. Beginning at 8:00 am, the first event of the day, a hunter class for children beginners. The day would culminate in the evening with the Grand Prix, the marquee event of show week. The Summer In The Rockies series was ending on a high note.

morning practice with Elizabeth and Lilith (CHP, Jul 17 2021)

For the daughters, and the other Grand Prix riders, the day followed the standard routine. The early morning riders’ meeting, with the blind draw for start positions. Morning workout or practice times slotted by bib number. Course walkthrough, after 4:00 pm. Anticipated event start time 7:30 pm. Additional updates would follow as needed. “Relax, stay hydrated” was the principal advisory with temperatures expected to be into the low 90s during the afternoon hours.

Except for the heat and hazy skies, the weather had been very cooperative. The only rain shower was between shows.

During the layout of the Grand Prix course, CHP received an alert an outflow boundary from a dying thunderstorm was approaching from the eastern plains. The hope was to have most of the course completed before the outflow reached CHP. With the outflow nearing, embedded with significant lightning, a delay was imposed. All events were halted. Horses returned to the barns, riders and the support crews to the indoor rings, spectators to the grandstand buildings.

a storm cometh: outflow boundary thunderstorm approaches (CHP, Jul 17 2021)

The lightning delay was soon replaced by a rain delay as torrential sheets of rain fell. When it seemed the heavy rain was ending, a new round of heavy rain began, leading to an extension of the rain delay. Two hours later, after 6:00 pm, the rain finally ended. The decision had been made, in the interim, to focus on the Grand Prix coming out of the delay. The suspended events, and the remaining Saturday events, would be carried over into the Sunday schedule.

After a one hour dry-out, the Grand Prix course was completed. The GGT surface was regroomed, sawdust added in the corners and tight turns as an absorbent and to firm the footing. At 8:15 pm, the course was approved and certified ready. The walkthrough commenced after 8:30 pm. It was unusual to see the walkthrough conducted under stadium lights. The Grand Prix riders were satisfied with the condition of the course. The footing was firm, especially in the tight corners and turns. The riders had a sense it was going to be a very long evening.

Most of the grooms walked the course with their riders, largely to determine if a cleat should be used. Griffin decided to use a short sand cleat, a cleat she used for a wet course while in The Saugerties. It was better to have a slower time with better footing in the Grand Prix round. She could remove it for the jump-off or change to another cleat.

At 9:45 pm, the Grand Prix was ready to go. Riding first on the 13 obstacle/16 effort course was Elizabeth. It was a speed course layout with very tight turns. While she thought about switching Lilith for SAM, Elizabeth decided to stay with her. Lilith’s energy level was off-the-scale strong. Elizabeth did an excellent job keeping Lilith’s energy in check.

But, it would be a while before the event started. A variety of technical issues with the timers had arisen, further delaying the start. With the technicians struggling with the timers, the first group of riders who were in warm-up were sent back to a holding area. The timer issues seemed to be multiplying. It would start, then freeze. It wouldn’t start, then start late. It would start but couldn’t accurately track time. If the timer issues could not be resolved, the event would be scrubbed and rescheduled for Sunday. It was certainly looking that would happen. The technicians decided on one last attempt at a system reset. If it didn’t reset, they would need the overnight to solve the timer issue. With fingers crossed, the timer system was reset. After the reset cycle completed, the timer system was working.

It was nearly 10:30 pm when the event was given a full-go. The first group, who were in the warm-up area, were given the all-clear to return from the holding area.

Under a steady, light rain, at almost 11:00pm, Elizabeth was cleared into the start area. Griffin did one more check on Lilith. They were good to go. Cheers were given by those who stayed, when they entered to begin their warm-up canter around the course. With 24 seconds remaining on the countdown timer, they crossed the start timers. Elizabeth had Lilith through the first four obstacles in an exceptionally fast 16.03 into the first bending line. With the short sand cleat, there was no slip in Lilith’s footing. Through the bending line and two very tight turns, into a difficult triple oxer combination. The time split over first half the course was 33.87. The more complicated portion of the course remained, four oxer combinations, two switches in direction and a pair of tight, left-right turns and another bending line.

Elizabeth stayed with her aggressive line on the course. The brush with the top rail on #9 was loud, but it stayed in place. When they cleared the 1.50 m single oxer on #13, they were out. It was a beautifully ridden round. They finished clear at 62.07. She clearly placed maximum pressure on the rest of the field. Elizabeth thought the steady, light rain had made the course faster and the footing better. “Close to perfect,” she told Griffin.

The wait was now on. Elizabeth was tracking and charting times. There were four professionals in the field, all who could very well be riding in Tokyo. Three others were in the stands watching, including their friend, Nicole, from LA. She introduced her sleeping infant daughter to Elizabeth. Nicole said it would be a several weeks before she would return to the circuit.

More than an hour later, and after midnight, it was Deborah’s turn from the #13 start position. No other rider after Elizabeth had rode clear. The second fastest time on course was a full 14 seconds behind with penalty points. Deborah hoped to reverse the trend and force a jump-off. “She’s notorious for setting a ridiculous pace, especially if she starts early in the draw. Lilith is the perfect horse to execute that kind of strategy. But, she can do a change of pace and ride very conservatively to set-up or make a jump-off. Again, Lilith is the perfect horse to execute the strategy. It depends if Elizabeth is a ta-may-toe or ta-mah-toe. If she’s neither, she has us by the scruff. Just wave off and ride another day.”

It seemed Elizabeth had the field by the scruff. Deborah decided to follow Elizabeth’s riding line, but not match her time. Move for move, she matched. Riding more conservatively, Deborah still posted the second fastest time on course at 69.72. More importantly, she forced a jump-off.

It would be another 20-30 minutes before Tara’s turn at #22. In between, three of the four professionals in the field had their turn. Each had beautiful rounds, but dropped a single rail along the way, in different parts of the course.

The rain began to fall in earnest when Tara’s turn came at 12:50 am, Sunday morning. Before she could ride, a stoppage was called to check the condition of the course with the rain falling more steadily. The footing was continuing to stay firm. With six riders remaining, it was decided to push ahead to completion. Tara was cleared to enter the start area.

Shortly after 1:00 am, Tara entered the course. She attacked the course, much in the same manner as Elizabeth. Her time splits at 16.07 and 33.98 were close. Tara knew she would have to step it up to overtake Elizabeth’s lead. They rattled the rails hard on #10 and #11, but they stayed in place. Cameron was giving his all. They crossed the finish timers clear at 62.44.

The jump-off was shaping up to be another family affair, with the three fastest times on the course. Rich, the remaining professional, and the last rider, hoped to join them in the jump-off. His time splits over the first half of the course were close to Tara’s. When the rail came down on #8, Rich waved off. He wouldn’t be joining the jump-off.

If anyone had the advantage, it was Tara. More than two hours had elapsed since Elizabeth rode; Lilith would need serious warm-up time. Comet would need warm-up time too since more than an hour had elapsed since Deborah rode. While they had been in similar situations, this was the first time on a cool, rainy night. At a disadvantage, both Elizabeth and Deborah needed to be more strategic in their approach to the jump-off. Griffin’s advice to Elizabeth and Deborah, see how the horses were after a standard warm-up. If they seem to be still cold, withdraw. It wasn’t worth to risk a muscle tear, or something more catastrophic.

Watching the warm-up, Griffin thought Lilith and Comet were ready.

When Elizabeth brought Lilith out for her warm-up canter around the jump-off course, there was a smattering of cheers and applause from those spectators who hung tough through the delays. The jump-off course was the four oxer combinations, finishing with the triple oxer combination. There was nothing fast about it. A strategic ride. Elizabeth patiently worked Lilith through the jump-off course. They finished clear at 39.58.

Next was Deborah. It seemed she was headed to similar finish when a rail went down on the last oxer combination. Deborah waved off before reaching the the triple oxer. By her reaction, her disappointment was evident. The handful of spectators applauded her effort.

With Tara remaining, Elizabeth nervously watched from the exit area. Tara, too, was patiently working Cameron through the jump-off. Ahead on the clock, Tara had the advantage. Over the triple oxer combination, rail down. Tara was in disbelief. She was so close.

In the exit area, Elizabeth embraced Tara tightly. “I’m so sorry, Tara. You did an incredible piece of riding tonight. The delays, and all …”

Summer In The Rockies: On Home Ground

“It is just another venue,” Trish commented. “Competing on home ground holds no special advantage. Picking up a win, or two, is nice. The higher expectations of performing well, it creates unneeded pressure. Especially with young riders.”

full speed practice with Deborah and Captain Andrew (CHP, Jul 16 2021)

Competing close to home has been a mixed bag for the daughters. As beginners in the children’s ranks, Deborah and Elizabeth did fairly well. When they became novices, again, they fared well. Entering the junior ranks when they turned 14, it was entirely more difficult. They were competing with those who were just as good, if not better, than they were. To be better, Deborah and Elizabeth needed to be better across the board. Riding, preparation, work ethic. They weren’t short on talent or mindset. They needed to step up their game.

Separately, Tara was proving herself worthy of the Comeback Rider of the Year award she earned in 2006. She was driven. She had a lot to prove to herself, a lot to prove to others. Deborah and Elizabeth love and admire those qualities in her. Moreover, they love her mental toughness. “Show me anyone who could come back from what Tara went through, and I’ll show you a liar and a fool.” Tara had plenty of doubts; Mark and Trish didn’t. Deborah and Elizabeth didn’t. Tara thought she may have been reaching the ceiling of her riding talent, progressively finishing lower on the leader board with each outing. She didn’t want to be forever remembered as that little girl who suffered a horrific accident at her first competition. The persistent whispering chipped away at her self-confidence.

Laurie had received an offer in trauma surgery at a major medical center in North Carolina. She thought Tara may need a change in scenery, certainly be away from the whispering. Trish still had plenty of ties in hunter/jumper circles there, perhaps she could recommend a good instructor/coach. Trish’s former coach, though retired, always kept his eyes open for new talent. She thought Walker would come out of retirement for Tara. “He’ll push you hard. You’ll work hard. You’ll probably practice for a year to 18 months before you’ll see another show ring. When you do, you’ll be ready to shine. And, you’ll be better than I ever was.”

Tara really didn’t want to move. All of her friends were here, notably Deborah and Elizabeth. She was very tight with them. But, it seemed North Carolina was destined to be the fresh start. On the eve of accepting the North Carolina offer, University of Colorado Hospital made Laurie an offer. “Do we stay, or do we go? If we stay, you’ll need to do what Mr. Walker said, what Trish has said, put those whisperers forever out of mind. They owe you nothing, you don’t owe them anything.”

With Tara staying, Trish decided to team her with Deborah and Elizabeth. They genuinely liked each other. Having them train, practice and compete together, apart from the other students, is what they needed. She would teach them the same way as Mr. Walker trained her. Trish said they would be taking one year off from showing. “The only riding you’ll be doing is the practice ring.” The off-saddle work was going to be hard too. “It’ll be like the hardest subject you’re doing in school. I’m going to test you and quiz you.”

Trish preached patience and focus to the three girls. “Winning, the awards, the accolades will take care of themselves. Work on the things you need to work on. Study the things you need to study. Trish recognized the talent they possessed. Greg, a professional coached by Trish, told her they had the potential to dominate the sport for years. “If they stay in the sport, Trish, they will rewrite the record book,” he said. Riding on the Rolex professional tour, Greg had competed with some of the best. “They aren’t your typical rider on a hot streak. They are more than that.”

“Griffin, I hate this place,” said Elizabeth, handing off her iPod. “Boots.” Griffin gave them once last wipe to remove the dust. “How’s your wrist?” Elizabeth wiggled the fingers on her right hand to show Griffin she was good to go. “Shades.” Per custom, Elizabeth tapped her helmet to signal she was ready. “One for the start area. 617, Ramos, Elizabeth Ksenia USA.”

Elizabeth calls CHP a difficult venue. “I don’t mind competing at difficult venues, with difficult courses. They make the sport exciting and interesting at the highest level. Most of the sport does not compete at the highest level. I want that little kid who is only riding one event during show week to have the time of their life. They’re not looking to ribbon. I want them to go home excited, saying ‘… and you know what … and, and …’ They’re the magic of the equestrian way. CHP makes it difficult to experience that.”

“Hey, E, hate this place.”

Elizabeth smiled back at Griffin. She promptly won her first event at last week’s show, her first since 2009.

Tonight, she rides for perfection in the Grand Prix.

Summer In The Rockies: Between Shows

Between show weeks, it is a day off. Yet, it remains busy. New riders are filtering in. Others are headed home, or the next stop in their respective tours. It is also used as a practice day. Those nursing an injury, horse or rider, the day off is invaluable.

The daughters have their share of bumps and bruises. Elizabeth, a painful sprained wrist. Deborah, general soreness. Tara, a sprained ankle and sprained arch. If it was a show day, they would be good to go.

Elizabeth explaining what they need to fix and why to do the exercises better (Colorado Horse Park, Jul 13 2021)

The daughters were shadowed by the five juniors from their home barn, Tuesday morning (Jul 13). They watched the morning workout. They asked a laundry list of questions, from riding to different venues to travel. The session ended with the juniors riding three different flatwork exercise courses. The daughters then offered their analysis. Fix what needs to be fixed, then do it again and keep doing it until it becomes second nature. “This is how you become good. This is how you earn your spurs.”

For these juniors, riding a week or two of Summer In The Rockies is their season. For a young rider, there is much to learn. Mostly in the practice ring. The daughters cut their teeth here, riding their one or two shows. If they did well, it occasionally allowed them to pick up another ride elsewhere.

How did the juniors do with the flatwork exercises? They did okay. They need to work more on their transitions. Also, they have much to make up with losing much of last year and part of this year to COVID restrictions.

 

XXVII

“She”

It is one way to describe her. Quiet. Reserved. Yet, engaging. She is kind and generous. A beautiful, young woman.

Tara has a passion for reading. The classics. Sci-fi. Romance. Biographies, and more. That is in addition to her required reading for med school. On very, very rare occasions, she’ll have a trashy novel in her bag.

A serious romantic, Tara rarely discusses the affairs of the heart. She’s found a rather interesting conversation partner to talk romance. “I wouldn’t have pegged you for a romantic, David. But, you are.” Neither did I. Romance, as Tara defines it, isn’t necessarily love or attraction. “It can be friendship. It can be that special connection or bond between two people.” We keep our conversations private, in confidence.

Tara’s song of the moment is Can’t Turn Back The Years by Phil Collins. “It is the most poignant song ever. The tears come too easily on this one.”

 

Happy Birthday, Tara!

xoxo
mom and dad