Riding: In The Southland

It was a short turnaround. Four days to be precise. Time enough for laundry. To prepare for a new set of shows. Knowing and choosing which horses will compete the best.

dressage moves: Elizabeth and Secret Agent Man warming up (North Ranch, Mar 2018)

“It is keeping yourself and your horses in a daily routine,” is how my daughters describe the four weeks away from home. Their June calendar, at first glance, appears busy. Practice, events and times marked for every day of the four show weeks, and in between. Their notebooks are filled with notes and observations on every hoof beat taken in practice, and in the show ring, this season. And, making sure they and their horses are ready for travel. “Preparation and organization are key, attention to detail required. But, you need to be practical and resourceful.”

warm-up: Elizabeth and Brie before the $15,000 Grand Prix qualifier (San Juan Capistrano, April 2018)

The four show weeks in San Juan Capistrano are well attended with riders from every skill level. Around 350-400 riders and nearly 850-900 horses compete every week, with a few calling it home for the month. “Each day is taken as they come. keeping it simple and relaxed makes for a better experience.” The four weeks may seem long. Large shows, though, have a way of making the days pass rather quickly.

While the first show week ended Sunday afternoon (Jun 10) with the last rider finishing the final event, my daughters had a short workout with their horses in one of the practice rings. It is not too early to look ahead to the next show week, which begins on Wednesday (Jun 13).

It is the equestrian way of life.

Deborah and Comet: the late afternoon workout (San Juan Capistrano, June 2018)

 

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Riding: New Territory, Higher Stakes

My daughters have rarely competed past the Labor Day (USA) holiday. Going to school, followed by obtaining their university degrees, precluded any notion of riding late into a season. When they did compete in the fall, it would be from a favorable calendar, or they had proven themselves in the classroom to gain a few days off. The time away would not cause them to fall behind. Mark and Trish both have placed a premium on studying and having good grades for their riders who are students also. It prepares them for life away from the show ring, away from horses. Moreover, a good student makes for a better rider.

The girls have found riding in September and October to be a challenging, grand experience. With the shows and events more national in setting, and higher rated, they draw riders that are among the best. The skills of their fellow riders are very polished, their experience level substantial. They are similarly detail-oriented in charting and studying their own riding, but are also watching the other riders and horses. It is about learning what other riders are doing to be better – on and off saddle, inside and outside the show ring.

the details: Elizabeth’s course notes and riding notes for season 2017

While the very best riders in show jumping win around 20-25% of their starts, making basic adjustments, including minor ones, are relatively few. They become particularly more reluctant late in the season. A rider will stay within their skill set, opting to trust in themselves and in their horses. A horse, knowing their rider trusts them wholly, gives them the certainty and confidence in any competitive setting.

My girls love the higher stakes. “In riding,” Elizabeth begins, “there are no automatics. Talent and a strong work ethic will open the door. The rest of it, the intangibles, the rider needs to bring them to table. They are what separates individual riders from one another. When it comes together, it all falls into a rhythm – the riding becomes more instinctive, much easier.” And, when the rhythm develops, its inherent consistency follows.

after the practice: Deborah and Comet (Del Mar Horse Park, Oct 2017)

“There is a crispness to the riding,” Deborah adds. “It is fast. It is precise. It is clean. It is focused. Yet, a rider cannot be afraid of making mistakes or taking risks.”

Finishing the thought, Tara adds, “When it comes together, it is as close to perfect one can imagine. Every move is fluid. What was hard is easy. And, what was easy is unreal.”

close to perfect: Tara and Cameron (Iowa, Aug 2017)

The hardest part – to keep it going.

The Season Begins

The weeks of practice have made them excited for the season to begin. They are ready. The riding has been fast, precise and crisp. It is disciplined. Trish has observed they are riding in mid-season form. “They are that good,” she has said.

saddle point-of-view: following Tara’s lead on Cameron, Deborah’s view onboard Comet (RRC, May 06 2017)
South Platte River on the left

The girls, along with Trish and Mark, are viewing this season as one of great challenge. Last season was a very good one, and resulted with an appearance at the Las Vegas National Horse Show. The expectations for them are likely greater this season if not higher.

My girls have said they are equal to the challenge for this season. There are no doubts, just riding. Everything else will follow.

pure love: Deborah and Captain Andrew (Jul 2016)

Beginning their 2017 season today, my daughters will once again start in Texas.

Photo credit – the saddle point-of-view is courtesy of Deborah.

“Ride now, ride forever”

 

Riding The Southland

A short turnaround, it was a few days at home to recoup and prepare for the next segment of the riding schedule.

Deborah and Comet working a practice course with
Elizabeth and Mr. Ed waiting their turn in the background (RRC, Jun 01 2016)

Deborah and Comet finishing a leisurely trail ride at the end of a long practice day (JN Ranch, Jun 02 2016)

And, so, the riding season begins in earnest.

Tara and Brie surveying the 1.40M practice course (JN Ranch, Jun 03 2016)

Four shows, four weeks in the Southland.

Beginnings

And, it began here …

Deborah visiting with her Auntie Bella’s Ranger Man (Jul 2000)

 

Their love of horses led them into the hunter sport.

Deborah (330) and Elizabeth (183) with their first ribbons won at a club level horse show (Jul 2003)

 

The ribbons are nice. The shows are fun. Their love of horses is enduring.

Deborah, 16, with her champion, Comet (Aug 2010)

 

Elizabeth, 20, with her lovely Lilith (Sep 2015)

 

Embarking on their 2016 season today, my daughters will begin again in Texas.

 

About the photos

All four photos were taken using a Canon FTb 35-mm SLR. The first two photos were made using Kodak T-MAX Professional 100 and the latter two with Kodak Gold (ASA 200).

Inside The Arena

The next rider and horse are introduced. There are a few cheers and shouts, some polite applause. The butterflies experienced while waiting are gone. The moment, the atmosphere, is quite electric. Both rider and horse are focused. A few seconds later, they start the course. The aim is a clean ride, no rails down, with the best time.

Before the ride is the more interesting part. Each rider has their routine. Some will go through visualization exercises, others will watch everything around them. A few will seem to be unaffected. The horses, they seem to be unfazed by it all.

NWSS 2016 – Secret Agent Man (left) and Comet (right) meet one another as Elizabeth and Deborah ride them to the warm-up area

NWSS 2016 – Deborah studies her crib sheet on the course layout

NWSS 2016 – Tara and Brie await their turn near the start area

While much of the riding season is done outdoors, riding an indoor venue has certain challenges. Many indoor venues have seating that brings their audience close to the action. It can cause sensory issues for horses. It is part visual and part auditory. Since horses do not see stereoscopically, their depth of field view is shallow when both eyes are focused in the same direction. They may perceive the audience as being closer than they actually are. The auditory aspect is that sound does not disperse quickly indoors, and most indoor venues are quite live.

With horses and riders having limited indoor experience, the challenges can quickly become issues. Horses that are normally calm in outdoor venues can become more skittish indoors, poorly processing the flood of sensory input. Riders, including experienced ones, can misinterpret the skittishness displayed by their mounts as pent-up energy. This is where a rider needs to thoroughly understand and be knowledgeable of their horse. If not, there is a good chance their competition ride will be ragged at best. Lilith is the one who becomes difficult in an indoor arena. Elizabeth can usually calm her with some gentle strokes on her neck. If Lilith doesn’t settle, Elizabeth gives her more rein to lessen Lilith’s anxiety. In the end, it is all about trust between horse and rider. It has to be unbreakable.

Las Vegas National GP 2015 – trusting Secret Agent Man completely, Elizabeth gives him more rein

Indoors or outdoors, winning ribbons, a top five finish, an oversized cardboard check are nice to have. However, nothing is better than a smiling rider and a smiling horse.

after the blue ribbon: Elizabeth and Lilith (San Juan Capistrano, Jun 2014)

Unsettled Training

It is fair to say their training schedule over the past few weeks has been unsettled. From the passing of their grandma to late-season winter storms, the schedule has been all over the board. Remarkably, though, my daughters have said it has been a good spring – one of their best. They’ve been able to practice well. Their coaches, Mark and Trish, have said they appear to be in mid-season form. The horses are riding well, the girls are riding well. Mark and Trish have added they are quite proud of my girls in how they have handled the unsettled nature of their spring. They have kept everything in perspective.

Comet: “When are we going riding?”

Though my daughters and their horses are quite eager for their season to begin, it is not an “every second on the saddle” training approach. They’ve let their horses be horses while they review the video of the training sessions and compare notes. And, of course, there’s always time for a little loving and play before returning to a practice session.

Deborah sharing a Jonathan apple with a freshly groomed Comet

Elizabeth and Mr. Ed playing “How tall are you?”

Once it is time to get back to training, everyone is ready.