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.


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 as much rein he wants


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)


Making Of A Champion

Other installments in this series:

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.

Second Nature: Of Synchronicity and Perfection

[This is the third part of a special series, “Making of A Champion”, contributed by my equestrian daughters. This post is by my daughter, Deborah.]

Comet stood ready. His attention, undivided. Determination in his eyes.

Comet, waiting in the start area (Texas, May 2014)


Victory was in reach for my champion. The leader’s time was not insurmountable. Only a strong, steady ride was needed to take the lead. Comet’s power was smooth and easy. His focus was my focus. I trusted Comet to run the course his way. I relaxed his reins more. His synchronicity was absolute perfection, clearing every fence in stride. With time seemingly standing still, our ride is over. My champion has proven his heart again. Our time is flashed on the scoreboard. We vault into the lead with our respectable 57.84/0 fault ride. The time limit on the course was 59.65.

*     *     *

With our season beginning next week, our remaining practice sessions are tightly focused. Our tempo, fast. Our skills, razor sharp. Our goal for the first show is rather modest, to have a good overall start to our season. A win, or two, though nice, is not a priority. Having strong, consistent rides are more important. It is the hallmark of our training from Mark and Trish, our coaches. By riding to our strengths, it places our horses and ourselves in the best position to be competitive and successful.

In riding to our strengths, it is understanding the abilities of our horses. We know, absolutely, everything about them. What they can and cannot do. How they think. How they react. What is their first instinct in a stressful, or pressure-filled, situation. Though a rider learns much about their horse in the first 6-12 months of being together, the learning process between horse and rider is always ongoing. In discovering new strengths, and, yes, new weaknesses, in each other, our riding becomes instinctive. We are able to anticipate each other’s actions and reactions. We are able to depend upon one another in every situation. It is to make every movement made, inside and outside the show ring, like second nature. The last thing any rider wants, especially in equine sports, is to think through the process of riding.

Though we approach our practice sessions in a workmanlike manner, we try to keep it relaxed as much as possible. Occasionally, we can become competitive if one of us posts a fast time on a practice course. The relaxed atmosphere allows us to minimize the pressure we place on ourselves. It also allows us to help each other in our individual preparations.

The off-saddle work is equally important. Much of it involves watching plenty of video of our own practice and competition sessions. We may watch the video of a single practice session over and over again, replaying segments multiple times. Throughout this process, we fill our legal pads with notes. This is in addition to the notes we have made during practice. We also pour over the dozens of digital images our dad takes. When we compare our notes and observations, it gives us a solid, invaluable base of information to draw upon.

At a horse show, however, our video review process is more streamlined. Obviously, we don’t have as much time to devote in breaking down our rides. It does give us a sense of how well we are riding. If things seem not to be going well, sending the video, along with our thoughts, to Mark and Trish for an analysis has always helped. Much of the time, they can easily see what we are missing. At the same time, they offer words of reassurance, that we are doing well and to trust our instincts.

Our thoroughness, and attention to detail, in our practice sessions and other preparations does not guarantee a top finish. The best it does is to help us be prepared. It helps us to be consistent in our riding.

*     *     *

Elizabeth, with Lilith, in the start area, flashes a smile. We touch fingers as we ride past. They know we’ve turned in a solid ride. Perhaps one with an insurmountable lead. Time to wait, but not for long.

with Lilith in the show ring, Comet watches and waits (Texas, May 2014)


Our lead holds. Elizabeth and Lilith finishes with a 57.86/0 fault ride. Our narrow lead over Elizabeth and Lilith continues as the draw winds down to the last rider. It’s Megan, our friend and former mentor, with her handsome Viceroy. Tara has nervously watched and waited with us. Megan and Viceroy are poetry in motion. They, too, have turned in a beautiful, solid ride. A winning ride.


About the author

Deborah Anne Ramos is a junior attending the University of Colorado. Her degree studies is in the field of biology, specifically animal science. She graduated with highest honors from Machebeuf Catholic High School in Denver in 2012.

She is a highly decorated equestrian with the Rustler Riding Club, earning Horse of the Year and Rider of the Year awards. Additionally, she has won multiple blue ribbons, and other placement ribbons, with Comet and Captain Andrew Evan Stedman.


Making of A Champion

Other installments in this series: