Riding: Grand Prix of Texas

Over the past four years, their riding season would begin in Texas. It made sense to begin here. Quality riders, from emerging talent to top amateurs to professionals. The shows are very competitive. The hospitality always inviting. The setting helped my daughters to develop in a highly competitive sport, and hone their skills and professionalism.

Tara and Cameron in 1.35 m GP Qualifier (Tyler, TX – May 2014)

When the four-show series concluded last year, the show managers were hinting of a change. It would be more than a refresh of the schedule and the adding of more sponsors. They wanted to make the shows more exciting and more entertaining. There were whispers of competing head-to-head with the more prestigious shows found in the Midwest, SoCal, Virginia and Kentucky. It would involve attracting top-level riders and expanding the audience base. Additionally, they would be competing head-to-head with the Texas rodeo season. A tall order by any measure.

With the new associations and commitments firmed, the new show series was announced. The Grand Prix of Texas consists of three Grand Prix events. The three-event, total-point series would begin in Tyler (Week One), move to Fort Worth (Week Two), then end in Dallas on Memorial Day. While riding three Grand Prix events in nine days sound daunting, in addition to other events, it isn’t in practice. It is a matter of knowing your horse, and a matter of the rider being prepared for the next event.

graphic courtesy of Southbound Shows®

Not beginning their season here, it has a different feel for my daughters. This series, though, comes at the right time for them. It is about stepping outside their comfort zone as it is about making adjustments.

The new championship, the quest begins on Saturday.

Tara and Cameron: 1.45/1.50 m Grand Prix warm-up (Tyler, TX – May 2017)

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New Trails

They have prepared themselves for this moment. They have studied much. They have studied hard. They have been inspired. They have inspired.

Our daughters have been accepted into two medical school programs, the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Long School of Medicine at UT Health in San Antonio. Both programs are excellent, and have produced outstanding MDs. One of those outstanding MDs is Laurie, Tara’s mom, who studied at UT – San Antonio. Andrea graduated from the University of Colorado nursing program at the BS and MS level. The inspiration for our girls is understandable.

University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Anschutz Medical Campus (Aurora, CO)

University of Texas Health Sciences Center (San Antonio, TX)

Choosing to pursue a career in medicine, or in the hard sciences, is not surprising. Deborah and Elizabeth, mom in nursing, dad in chemistry; Tara, her mom a trauma surgeon. Their essays on “what I want to be” in the 6th and 7th grades suggested a percolating interest. Becoming a professional equestrian, not so much. When their riding began to click, and making the jump from above-average novices to dominating juniors, the prospect of riding professionally became a little brighter.

We have encouraged our girls to follow their hearts in following their dreams. Moreover, we told them do not wait for a role model or a trailblazer to emerge – otherwise you’ll be waiting forever. “It is not much different from riding,” Mark and Trish have said. “If you want to be in any field, you must learn and study as much as you can, then always work to give your best.” Both Mark and Trish have always placed a premium on education for their young riders, and to encourage them to think beyond equine sports. “It’s okay to have dreams other than horses and to pursue those dreams.

entering the quad, University of Colorado School of Medicine

the quad and medical classroom buildings, seen from a lounge area in another medical classroom building
University of Colorado School of Medicine

In their individual interviews with both programs, our daughters were asked, “Why medicine? Why don’t you stay with riding?” Though the question came across as dismissive, our girls handled it with their usual grace. “Medicine and riding are much alike,” they proffered. “There are no guarantees. In riding, you always give your very best effort, every time, in the show ring. In medicine, a doctor must always give their very best with each individual patient. Anything less, you don’t belong in either field.

The pursuit of medical careers does not imply our daughters are finished with their riding, or taking a hiatus from the sport. They still plan to compete, but on a less expansive basis. It made choosing which school to attend fairly easy, the University of Colorado School of Medicine. They’ll be close to home and they’ll be close to their horses.

Deborah, Elizabeth and Tara are clearly excited about the journey they will soon embark on. They understand there will be long days ahead, yet they have not been wary of hard work. We could not be more proud and excited for them. Mark and Trish have no doubts they will succeed. “It is in their blood.

Ride now, ride forever

 

Photo credit: The photos used in this post are courtesy of the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Long School of Medicine, University of Texas Health Sciences Center – San Antonio.

 

Odyssey

odyssey – noun  (od-ys-sey ˈä-də-sē

  1. a long wandering or voyage marked by many changes in fortune.
  2. an intellectual or spiritual wandering or quest.

It was the regular, Monday morning groom. The music on loud, the horses waiting their turn in the ties for a brush down. With their coats trimmed to competition standards, keeping them dust and burr free is an imperative – especially when it’s windy.

Finishing her work first, Deborah raced to the loft office to check her email. The new update said they were ahead of schedule. She checked the time on the office clock, rechecked on her watch, then again on her Blackberry. Deborah raced back down, then walked about a hundred feet down the drive. She saw the dust plume headed our way. “They’re coming!” Deborah shouted.

She walked briskly back to the barn. Her precious cargo from SoCal was arriving. Though they weren’t expecting anything of their own, Deborah’s excitement had rubbed off on Elizabeth and Tara. The horse trailer pulled around, and was positioned to unload the new addition. Deborah signed the paperwork, and was given her ownership portfolio. She carefully reviewed each document in the portfolio. Lastly, the transport and transfer documents, paper and digital, were signed and copies distributed.

Odyssey: welcome home

It was time to unload. Odyssey cautiously poked out his head, not sure if he wanted to step off the trailer. Deborah whispered in his ear. Whatever she said worked; he unloaded easily. The music track playing when Odyssey stepped off the trailer seemed appropriate. It was a cover of the Amy Grant song, “House of Love”.

About Odyssey

He’s a nearly three year old OTTB bay stallion. Officially, he stands at 18.0 hands. On the racetrack, his record is 4-7 in 14 starts. His previous owner said Odyssey wasn’t cut out for the racetrack, but may be destined for success in show jumping. An evaluator said he has natural jumping ability, and would develop under proper ownership and a sound rider.

House of Love

It is the title track of Amy Grant’s ninth album, House of Love. Performing the song with Amy on the album was Vince Gill, singing the high harmony vocal. The song reached #5 on the AC chart and #37 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. A video of the Amy Grant/Vince Gill studio session can be found here, and their appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno here.

Riding: New Directions

“It’s important to build off on what you accomplished.”

The experience in Guadalajara was an excellent one. “There are so few riders,” Trish noted, “who are able to do what you did.” They smiled in reply. “The riding was exceptional. Everyone knows it. Simply, it was strong riding.” The extra confidence from Trish was much appreciated.

practice course: Elizabeth setting part of the practice course (RRC, Mar 25 2018)

One final instruction from Trish before beginning the practice course. Deborah, Elizabeth and Tara listened intently. It wasn’t much different from their earlier days of listening to her every word, and watching her every motion.

With everyone in place, Trish signaled Deborah to begin her ride of the practice course. Quickly approaching the difficult weave section of the course (left-left-right-sweeping right), Trish yelled at Deborah to attack the course harder. Sitting back down, “The weave is a series of blind turns. It is pure instinct,” she explained. “It is total trust between horse and rider.” Deborah completed the course cleanly, saying the weave was a rush. Tara, then Elizabeth, followed, riding the course cleanly too. Their riding – fast, crisp, precise.

A quiet conversation among the four followed.

Candace (Happy Girl): ready to win in her West Coast debut (SJC, Apr 03 2018)

Today, my daughters will open their 2018 season in SoCal. They, and their horses, are ready.

Snow Day

A rare day off for the ‘rents.

playing in the snow: while Laurie blows a handful of snow, Andrea stands behind her, ready with a snowball

The snow came in the overnight hours. Not too much, about two inches. Amazingly, Laurie was able to blow the wet snow. Its consistency much better for making snowballs and snowmen and snowwomen.

We’ll grow up one day. May be tomorrow.

Riding: 2018 Opener

The field of thirty riders was set. From the La Familia Cup (1.50m), 24 riders qualified. The remaining slots were filled by wild card entrants. Elizabeth, Deborah and Tara qualified with top ten finishes, 6th, 9th and 10th respectively. Both the team trainer and a team sponsor were very pleased. They called their riding “masterful”. Considering the girls had met their horses two days earlier, they described their riding as adequate.

The opportunity of riding in Guadalajara had presented itself weeks earlier as the Nationals in Las Vegas were drawing to a close. An equestrian group from Mexico had brought a pair of horses and one of their best riders. They were using their appearance as a dress rehearsal ahead of the World Cup show in Guadalajara. A pair of team officials had watched from the sidelines. Disappointed, they had hoped for a better outcome.

After a few inquiries, word began to spread of a late rider switch for their team. Soon, they found themselves speaking with my daughters. Acknowledging the possibility of a rider switch, they asked the girls of their thoughts regarding a switch. They suggested staying with their original plan. A switch does not guarantee a better result. Plus, finding and contracting riders at such a late stage could be difficult, and may come at a premium price. Besides, their young riders would gain more experience from riding than from watching. If they qualified, a World Cup start would be something to build on.

With a day and a half to prepare, plenty of riding remained. The entire field had events remaining on their individual schedules. My daughters had two events and a practice session on the board for the next day. On World Cup day, only a light morning workout was planned. The only amateurs in a diverse professional field, my girls knew they needed quality rides to be competitive. The masterful rides, for the moment, were a series of photos on display in the Guadalajara Country Club from past shows.

jump: Kent Farrington (USA) with Uceko at the Pan Am Games XVI (2011)
original photo: Al Bello/Getty Images*

A misty morning greeted all on World Cup day. The girls followed their usual routine, checking on the horses in the early morning. Their team of four grooms reported the horses had a good night despite the damp, chilly conditions. They added once the fog and mist lifts later in the morning, it would be a very good day for riding. Deep blue skies and a few, feathery clouds were revealed when the mist and fog burned off. It was indeed a perfect day for riding.

First, it was the morning riders’ meeting and the all-important, blind draw for starting positions. The girls had hoped to draw start positions in the middle of the field. They were very pleased with the positions they drew – Deborah 12th, Tara 15th, Elizabeth 16th – it had to be a good sign. Much of the day, though, would be a matter of staying loose, and managing the expectations like any other grand prix day. Wait for, then ride, their practice times, keeping it all very easy.

Tara: from cross trainers to English tall boots

The course build was going to be challenging for my daughters. They hadn’t jumped a full course at 1.60 m before. The Guilherme Jorge designed course featured a 13 fence/16 effort layout. Also designing courses for the 2016 Rio Olympics and 2016 Las Vegas Nationals, this course design had his trademark technical challenges while showcasing the athleticism and grace of the horse.

During the walkthrough, my daughters’ focus was on the coming ride. To ride the course cleanly, a good rhythm was needed: clear one fence, gather position and speed quickly for the next, stick the take-offs and landings. Turns needed to be precise and smooth. Technical demands aside, the difficulty of the course was its fence heights.

Coming into the event, most of the riders had fewer than five World Cup starts. The more experienced professionals were few in number. The most experienced professionals were the three other riders from the USA. While two entrants (Brazil and Sweden) withdrew due to injury, the tightening of the field to 28 didn’t alter the overall competitiveness. In another wrinkle, the FEI suspended the rule requiring amateur riders to have a top ten finish to appear in the official results. Deborah, Elizabeth and Tara would be eligible for ranking points.

With the first group of riders warming up, a sense of anticipation and excitement was beginning to build in the grandstand. A qualifier for both the World Cup Finals in Paris and the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, much seemed to be at stake. Many were hoping to see the road to both championships begin here. The girls checked their riggings one final time. Deborah and Tara were in the second warm-up group, Elizabeth in the third. Each with a few butterflies, it was fairly routine. My girls were ready.

Among the early starters, the riding was very rough. Pulled rails, time faults, tentative riding. Though one clear round was produced, the audience had grown quiet. Their optimism and excitement had faded. More rails were pulled, but times improved slightly into the low 80s. A pair of clear rounds followed. With pulled rails all over the course, no particular section was proving to be more difficult than another.

Her riding was smooth, her turns were precise. The jumps were clean. Deborah was putting on a clinic. Fate intervened on fence 9C of the Longines Jump, a triple fence combination. Her Dutch warmblood barely tapped the top rail, but was enough to pull it. An audible “ohhh” could be heard throughout the grandstand. Deborah finished at 80.48 seconds/4 penalty points. She was warmly applauded for her effort. Following Deborah was last year’s champion, Francisco Pasquel. His ride was crisp, clean and precise. Posting the fastest time of 76.79 seconds, he was laying down a challenge for the remaining riders in this round and the jump-off – your best ride will be needed. After his ride into the lead, it was another rider unexpectedly pulling off rails on back-to-back fences. He shook his head in bitter disappointment coming off the course.

At the halfway point of the event, Tara was next. She rode a quickening lap around the ring before crossing the start timers to begin her run. With good speed and rhythm over the first third of the course, Tara’s time split was a half second ahead of Pasquel. She then heard a rail being struck while clearing fence 6. Tara kept her eyes focused heading into fences 7 and 8, before lining herself up for the Longines Jump at 9. Though Tara had good speed, she finished at 82.54 seconds/4 penalty points.

Immediately following Tara was Elizabeth. With four riders already claiming places in the jump-off, she wanted to be the fifth. Elizabeth cantered her Hanoverian at a deliberate pace, slowly stepping it up. Crossing the start timers, Elizabeth began her run. She was crisp, clean and precise. At the first time split, she was fractionally ahead of Tara, 0.60 seconds ahead of Pasquel. With Elizabeth riding extremely well, the audience had taken notice of her time and the remaining number of fences. It was going to be close. Slightly brushing the last fence, it was enough to pull down a rail. A nice pat for CM, Elizabeth gave herself a tap on the helmet. Elizabeth finished at 77.91 seconds/4 penalty points. Her time was the second fastest over the course.

curtain call: extra applause for Elizabeth and CM

The remaining portion of the field produced three more clear rides to advance them into a seven-horse jump-off. It ended with a 1-2-3 sweep for the host nation, Mexico. For Luis Alejandro Plascencia O, it was a qualifying win in his first World Cup start. Taking second was Gustavo Ramos with his longtime partner Izzy Miaki, with last year’s winner, Francisco Pasquel, finishing third. The highest USA finish was fifth place by Sarah Scheiring. Riding last in the jump-off, Sarah pulled a rail on the last fence. Her finish moved her higher in the east coast sub-league standings for the World Cup – North America branch. In the final standings, Elizabeth finished 8th, Deborah 11th and Tara 12th.

Their first international show, and riding well, my girls are not ready to concede they achieved. Quite to the contrary. They have learned how to be better riders from the experience, and had fun in the learning.

Note

* Photo of a gallery print. The Getty Image of Kent Farrington and Uceko at the Pan Am Games can be found here.