Sunday Morning Coming Down

It was absolutely perfect evening. Very relaxed and comfortable. Only in Texas, of course. The evening began with a Texas BBQ dinner, a thank you from the show managers to the riders, their families and support crews. The centerpiece of the evening was the karaoke contest, a contest among the riders willing to step into a different kind of spotlight.

Instead of using the Grand Prix ring for the night’s festivities, Hunter Ring #1 was chosen. The ring had undergone a major upgrade during the off-season with the installation of new stadium lighting and becoming more intimate in setting. Throughout the day, practically every rider walking past stopped to watch its transformation. The festival lights, tables, catering stations, and stage. It seemed the setting would be as intimate as the year before, may be more.

A Night In Tuscany

The hunter ring was styled into a piazza, with tables and chairs arranged in a semi-circular pattern around a low-rise stage. Above the stage, a lighting truss. The stage background, tiered greenery. The setting had a closeness about it.

A sunset that stole your breath away began the perfect evening. With each passing second, the fiery color of the sky slipped away.

Soon, the deep blues and deep purples of dusk colored the sky, with a touch of dark red, here and there. “The Romanza colors,” noted Tara, “is all in Texas, tonight.” Softly lit with festival lighting, the piazza setting slowly revealed its intimacy.

Simplicity was its beauty. The softness of lilac was it scent. Texas wildflowers throughout. Formal place settings for an informal BBQ dinner. A bit fancy, but the evening was all about hospitality and thanks for another successful run of the four week series.

The Song

The high point of the evening was the karaoke contest. Among the 15 entrants, there was one without equal. Her performances have been dominant and flawless. Seeking her fourth consecutive title, she was seen as the prohibitive favorite. She’s been teased, good-naturedly, about being the “ringer” in the contest. While the contest is pure fun, the natural competitiveness of the riders emerges.

The theme for the contest was “1970s Hot 100“. To music aficionados, it was a golden decade of hits on all the charts. The era’s music is a favorite of Elizabeth’s, and has her favorite artist of all-time, Crystal Gayle.  Listen to all of her devices, there is no Adele, no Taylor Swift, no Katy Perry, no Brittany, no Lorde, among others.

The Crystal Gayle songbook is firmly rooted in Country, but has enjoyed significant crossover appeal. Elizabeth chose “I Cried The Blue Right Out of My Eyes”, one of Crystal Gayle’s earliest hits. The song has pedigree, written by Loretta Lynn, older sister to Crystal.

With the stadium lights on, it was time to compete. Elizabeth drew the #15 slot, the most-coveted starting position. Singing last, she knew what kind of performance would be needed. Deborah and Tara were more nervous than Elizabeth. Their advice, though, “go out and win this thing.”

Elizabeth sent chills. Mom loved it, wiping more tears from her eyes.

She did, fourth time. And, won the Grand Prix event the next day, third consecutive year.

Notes

Written by Loretta Lynn, “I Cried The Blue Right Out of My Eyes”, 21-year-old Crystal Gayle (1972) singing her first hit, here. It reached No. 23 on the Billboard Country singles chart in 1970. Performed 25 years later (1997), with a more experienced voice, Crystal singing it here. She has noted, when tweaked on a studio sound mixer, the song has a MOR flavor. Crystal Gayle’s breakthrough hit was the jazz-flavored “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” in 1977. A biography can be found here.

Crystal is also known for her floor length hair. Elizabeth’s hair length, at its longest, reaches to her lower back, only trimming it back during riding season.

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Riding: Season Finale

“It is no longer about potential. It is about being kinetic.”

A national horse show has a way of drawing the best out of a rider. The stakes are well understood. A win can catapult a rider to greater heights. An unexpected finish can lead to new opportunities. Or, it can quash the loftiest of dreams.

Riding in their fourth, consecutive appearance at the Las Vegas Nationals, my daughters have caught the eye of a few professional riders along the way. They’ve watched them at work, and have come away impressed. Their horsemanship, work ethic, attention to detail, their intangibles. Most have been impressed with their ability to manage the anticipation and expectations of a national show, and the bright lights of an FEI World Cup tour event.

Compliments aside, it is about riding the ride. “It is giving their absolute best in the show ring,” says Trish. “They trust themselves. They trust their horses. They have a maturity that you rarely, if ever, find in a rider of their age. That is why they’re very, very good.”

With fewer wild card slots available, the World Cup Grand Prix field was expected to be smaller in size from the year before. A rider’s best chance to assure themselves a slot was a clean ride in the qualifier, the Welcome Speed Classic, held two nights earlier. No rails down, no time faults. Once the qualifier and wild card slots were filled, a field of 29 riders was set. Only Elizabeth qualified for the event; Deborah and Tara both failed to qualify with one rail down in their runs. Yet, these are the moments they have often practiced. Only one moving ahead to ride the headline event, the other two supporting in a second’s role.

Deborah and Tara walked the course build with Elizabeth, offering their insights on the Oscar Soberón designed course. Like his other courses – fair, challenging, exciting. After the walkthrough, Elizabeth worked through her notes and choosing her sightlines and riding line.

An hour before the event, it’s the quiet time for Elizabeth and Lilith. The routine is deliberate and methodical. When the first group of riders are called, Elizabeth and Lilith are ready. A final check of the rigging, they begin the walk from the stables to Priefert Arena, next door to the main arena, for warm-ups.

The pressure and anxiety of the moment wasn’t any greater than Elizabeth normally experiences. Thoughts of the ride and the course are far from her mind. Instead, the focus is keeping Lilith’s warm-up steady. When it’s time to move into the holding area, Lilith is ready, ready.

From the holding area, the riders were able to gain a sense of the arena. The atmosphere, the anticipation, was less electric than the year before. Perhaps, it was the arena being only three-quarters full. Or, the audience more subdued. A less excited atmosphere generally keeps a horse from becoming overexcited. A highly charged setting, like the year before, several horses, including Lilith, were overexcited.

tunnel walk: from the stables to Priefert Arena

warm-up: Priefert Arena, ring two (left)

While she prefers a later start position, Elizabeth drew ninth in the order. Riding later in the order gives a better sense of the course in terms of difficulty and footing. Riding early in the draw, there is little sense of the course. The ride becomes trusting yourself.

With Elizabeth and three other amateurs part of the field of 29 riders, the World Cup Grand Prix began. Per FEI rule, the amateurs would not be listed in the official results unless it is a top ten finish. Richard Spooner (USA) was the crowd favorite with Chatinus, a 10-year-old Hanoverian he acquired over the summer. He had top five finishes in the World Cup qualifiers at Sacramento and Del Mar.

The challenge of the Soberón course revealed itself quickly. The first eight riders had put down rails, at least one. Riding ninth, 1028 Elizabeth Ksenia Ramos/Lilith (USA), would she be the first to ride clear? Elizabeth was riding the course well, her split times good. They cleared the troublesome 1.60 m fence with ease. The three 1.50 m fences down the backstretch, clear. On the second to last fence, a slight brush on the top rail of the 1.50 m fence. Rail down. Time, a 1.5 second lead on the field. With 20 riders yet to come, an unknown rider with a penchant for detail is the leader for the moment.

The ride done, Elizabeth knew she missed her chance. It seemed, though, the event may not go to a jump-off. Rider after rider were pulling rails. Elizabeth’s lead was steadily being chipped away, then her time passed. The first clear ride finally came 12 riders later. Crowd favorite, Richard Spooner, rode clear at 24. Karrie Ruffer (USA), an amateur making her second World Cup start, also made the jump-off. Spooner won the jump-off by nearly three seconds over Alison Robitaille (USA), with Ruffer retiring after a pulled rail. She finished third, and a place in the official results. In the unofficial results, Elizabeth finished 11th, 0.18 seconds short of tenth place.

For some, Las Vegas was their season finale. After the holiday break, many would begin assembling their show schedule for 2018. A few were planning a trip to the Winter Equestrian Festival in Palm Beach, FL to watch the best ride. A pair of riders the girls know rather well have decided to call it a career in riding, but continue in the horse world.

And, a handful, including my girls, are riding at the World Cup tour event in Guadalajara, this week, to begin their 2018 calendar.

Happy Birthday Egypt!

Our much loved Miss Egypt would have been 13 today. Greatly missed, our tabby girl is not far from our thoughts.

Always sociable and friendly, she was always ready for a visit. Miss Egypt, though, only had eyes for her one. And, yes, her spirit has come with us to the new house.

We were glad and much privileged to have been her forever family.

Happy Birthday, Egypt!

xoxo

Easy Like Sunday

… or should it be “Escape From New York”?

My daughters had some equestrian business in upstate NY last week. When the weather upstate became decidedly blizzardy, the meeting was moved to Manhattan. Granted there would be no riding or making new horse friends, but when you have riders in the same room, the talk of horses can be unending. Sitting around a hotel suite, in riding attire, lends itself very well to the horse talk.

homeward bound: after takeoff from JFK, first to Atlanta then home to Colorado
photo credit: Deborah  camera: BB Classic

Three days after the storm, JFK was still a mess. Rebooked for today, their flight left this afternoon nearly 2½ hours behind schedule. Instead of a four-hour layover in Atlanta, it’ll be a two-hour layover. Fortunately, the possibility of icing in Atlanta and North Georgia will develop very late tonight, after the girls are back home.

Their host, she was still waiting for her flight to Florida. Her horses will follow in a few days.

Hail & Farewell

The last 2½ hours of the year is quietly slipping away. No worries or thoughts of what should have been, or could have been. It is always about looking ahead. Today was good, tomorrow will be better. With the excitement building for the coming year, new adventures, new hopes, new memories are waiting to be discovered.

After our family celebration, the sharing of kisses, our home will quiet and settle for a winter’s night. The year coming to a close was a good one. We, hopefully, met and passed many of the tests. We were made the better for them. The coming new year brings new promises. We believe we’re ready.

May the new year be a good one, and one for good memories.

 

Christmas Night

Chocolate wafted throughout the house in the morning.  In the afternoon, the scent of a rib roast.  Boxes moved around, furniture hastily arranged. And, careful not to step on a stray kitty jingle ball.

Our dinner table was a little tight, but we managed. With the open design of our kitchen, Laurie, Andrea and I ate there. Occasionally, the three of us got to laughing too much. Andrea’s parents, my dad, Bella and our daughters got to wondering what us ne’er-do-wells were laughing about. “Nothing …”, followed by more laughing.

With the lights low, our home begins to quiet amidst the crackling fire. Laurie, Andrea and I softly talk of the past few days, how good they have been. And, how good this Christmas has been. “Tom and Judy were right,” Andrea begins. “Only a few days here, I love it so.”

We hope your Christmas was joyful and blest.

Christmas Eve

A maze of boxes and furniture is all about the house. The kitties love the arrangement. It’s a playground. In place, their food and water stations, and litter boxes, of course. And, Andrea’s piano. The barn set-up is almost finished. There are certain priorities after all.

boxes and furniture: the living room maze

Tara’s temporary nightstand: a dual-purpose wooden crate

After a late breakfast, it was a day of moving around of boxes and furniture. Though most of our dinnerware, tableware and cookware remains boxed, enough is out for everyday use. The refrigerator is full, and we can make meals.

breakfast time: French toast

breakfast of champions: French toast drenched with syrup and a slab of butter

After dinner, it will be a crackling fire in the hearth. A few songs around the piano. A few, unexpected presents found under the tree.

later: preparing the Christmas Day checklist

To all our friends, may you have a merry and blessed Christmas!