Saratoga: Travel Day

A special post by Lauren Westin, MD.

Travel day is the longest. It starts early and ends late. The attention to detail is a priority. The precious cargo, the horses and my family.

Given the experience, last June, Qatar Airways Cargo was chosen again to transport the horses from Denver to Saratoga. The entire process is carefully choreographed to ensure the safety and comfort of the horses while in transport, and on the ground in Denver and Saratoga. The departure itinerary is finalized with approximate departure and arrival times, with the on-time schedule guaranteed. Again, they would transit through the FedEx terminals in Denver and Saratoga.

Griffin will be serving as the chief groom, with her daughter, Sophia, as her assistant. The daughters have given Griffin broad authority and discretion in management of the horses. In itself, it is an extraordinary conveyance. They trust her implicitly.

loading the horses for transport to the FedEx facility at DIA (BellaK Horse Farm, May 9 2021)

With an early departure time, Monday morning, at 4:30 am, the horses were transferred to a temporary stable, Sunday evening, at the FedEx facility. Griffin supervised her groom team through the overnight hours before departure. We arrived at the FedEx facility at 2:30 am for in-processing, which included providing registry and veterinary documents for each horse, proof of identity, proof of COVID test results or vaccination. Griffin also briefed the girls on the horses and the updated itinerary.

The horses were traveling business class. To distribute the weight more evenly, on the cargo deck, each horse was given their own stall, which is a first class accommodation. Two additional cargo containers were loaded. One containing the baggage and tack equipment, and the other with extra hay and water for the flight.

final loading of Qatar Airways Cargo Flight 1098SP (DIA, May 10 2021)

Onboard the Boeing 777-200LR plane, the same accommodations were present. A small passenger section consisting of twelve business class seats, a pair of restrooms, and a self-serve galley. David, the girls, Griffin and Sophia were the only passengers.

With everyone onboard, Qatar Airways Cargo Flight 1098SP, non-stop from Denver to Saratoga, was ready to depart, 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

FedEx Terminal, Denver International Airport (4:15 am, May 10 2021)

Saratoga represents the most complex trip undertaken by our girls, and the farthest from home.

Side Notes

David tolerated the trip to Saratoga very well. Not bad for someone who was discharged from the hospital three weeks ago.

Riding: The Season Begins

On Wednesday, they will begin riding for real.

Tara and Cameron, 1.45m Jumper Open, Del Mar International Welcome Week CSI3* (Oct 2017)

The daughters have been riding a highly-structured training program to prepare. It begins in January with flatwork, the foundational cornerstone in equestrian sports. It progresses towards jumping full practice courses by March. When the calendar flips to April, it is riding with speed, crispness and fluidity. By May, they are riding at competition level.

While they have been riding on and off through their off-season, the first day of training is riding with focus and discipline. The checklist they have assembled is extensive. It is precise and detailed. The training sessions are done at a steady, flexible pace. The need to push the training harder and faster is unnecessary. The horses, now in their prime, pick up on the training as they advance through the schedule.

dressage transitions with Lilith: Elizabeth listening to instructions from Trish (North Ranch, Apr 2021)

Though it is all business, they have fun. Kent Farrington, one of their favorite riders, said you have to love it all. From long, hard practice days to bitter disappointments in the show ring. When everything comes together in practice and in competition, it makes all the work and time you’ve invested more sweeter. “You’re riding for only one reason, you live to ride.”

The flatwork sessions are primarily dressage exercises focusing on tempo and motion. They form the technical foundation for jumpers. Add the grid exercises, circle exercises, slalom exercises, turning exercises, and cavaletti exercises, the sport is more than jumping a horse over a fence. Together, they are the core skill set for a showjumper. Practicing the fundamentals is how one becomes better. The best professional riders are always practicing their fundamentals, even with the horses they have ridden over several seasons.

Additionally, the daughters have watched every single frame of video from the practice sessions. They have watched every single frame of competition video from the previous season. They break down each ride. The good, bad, and in-between, noting what worked and what didn’t work. No detail is too small.

riding notes and details from Deborah’s 2019 season

How they prepare for a season hasn’t changed much since Trish did the planning. It is the same template Trish used when she was the young rider. She slowly gave the girls more responsibility in how they prepared themselves, much like how she was given more responsibility by her coach. The girls were given complete control of their own training in 2017. “They have the work ethic to handle the added responsibility. Also, they thoroughly study and understand their own riding.

Trish continues to watch the practice sessions from the sidelines, writing her own notes on what they can do better. Afterwards, they compare notes. Often in a technical shorthand only they understand.

“They are ready.”


Had a bit of an intruder situation during the overnight. The motion security lights were on. Will and Jas were barking, alerting on someone or something outside. I knew it wasn’t an animal because they don’t go from window to window with a flashlight. I grabbed my jeans, jacket and shoes. I killed the security lights. I loaded my handgun. I slipped out through the doors on the back deck. Once on the ground, I released the safety. Whoever was skulking about came to the wrong house.

It didn’t take long for me to catch the intruders, two 17 year old boys. I had them lay face down on the ground and not say a single word. I added a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson round makes a terribly large hole. I called 911 and asked if they could send some deputies out, saying I caught two intruders. Both are juveniles.

Forty-five minutes later, four deputies arrived. One of the boys was the son of a senior deputy, who was on this call. The other, his bud, who quit going to school a year ago. The deputy told his son to shut up when the boy tried to explain why he didn’t do anything wrong.

I signed a criminal trespass complaint.

The senior deputy apologized for his son’s actions. I told him he didn’t need to apologize. His boy is old enough to be responsible for his own actions. He needs to understand it could’ve ended very badly.

When I was talking with Amanda, over a late lunch, today, she said those two boys have been nothing but trouble. “They were lucky you didn’t put them down.” She had caught them once trying to break into her barn. Another time, trying to break into her beat-up F-100 truck. A third time, they were more threatening when she was alone on the range. Amanda had to pull her handgun out. She didn’t point it at them, but they did back off. Amanda signed a criminal complaint each time.

We’ll see what happens next.

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About the photo

From the film archives, taken with a Kodak disposable camera in the late 1980s, in the previous life, near an undisclosed location.