Riding: The Nationals

The Nationals in Las Vegas, they signal the end of the riding season on the West Coast, and for my daughters. Their readiness is palpable. Simply, it is the most important show of their season.

Part of the World Cup tour, the CSI4* rated show draws a very competitive field of riders. The best of the USA horse show circuit and professionals on the Cup tour are featured. While the stage is larger, the expectations greater, my daughters approach to the Nationals is that it is no different from any other show. It is about riding.

“It is no longer about practice and other shows,” says Trish. “It is no longer about potential. It is about being kinetic. To achieve it, a rider needs to trust themselves and their horse, especially at this level.”

ready to compete: 028 Lilith/Elizabeth Ramos USA

The horses, they’re ready too.

Time to ride.

“Ride now, ride forever”

Advertisements

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.

Dreamin’

“Colorado, everywhere I go I’m in your shadow and you’re callin’ to me
Colorado, the sun melts the snow makes the rivers flow to the sea”
from Colorado by Chuck Pyle

Elizabeth: watching the sunset (JN Ranch, Oct 25 2017)

Nothing is finer than being home.

 

Riding: Grand Prix Day

The day begins early, shortly after 5:30 am. The horses are beginning to wake and stir in their stalls. Soon, it will begin like every other day. My daughters are quiet during the ride in, studying their checklists and going over what they want to accomplish in their minds. Horses are animals with a set routine. Whether at home, or on the road at the show, it is about keeping with the daily schedule.

Though it seems quiet, the main horse barn is humming with activity. The barn crew is finishing their deliveries of stall supplies; the riders are slowly filtering in. Those riding in the first events of the day are the most busy preparing their gear and horses. Arriving at the barn, it is straight to work for my girls. The first order of business is a check of their horses and their stalls, followed by setting up breakfast. The breakfast is precise in what they are fed. It is a mix of ultra-premium hay, rolled oats and scientific horse feed, with the balance varying slightly for each horse. After getting them started on breakfast, along with fresh water, the girls check on the stall supplies they’ve ordered. And, so begins another day.

morning workout: Elizabeth and SAM on a circle exercise, the froth normal (CHP, Jul 2017)

In the early morning workout, a sense of the day begins to develop between my girls and their horses. Of importance is the energy, prompting and workout level. Though it is Grand Prix day, it is keeping it like any other day. Preparing for the event tempers the anticipation and expectations. They become an X-factor of sorts as the marquee event draws closer. No other event is greater, or better, than the Grand Prix. It features the best riders with the best horses in attendance, with a few riding it as their only event. Yet, the competitiveness is even. Anyone riding the GP can win. Deborah often compares it with the NFL maxim: “On any given Sunday …

During the morning meeting, the GP riders are briefed on the day’s schedule, weather and practice windows. With the event always scheduled for the late afternoon, or in the evening, knowing the schedule aids them in managing their time and routines. The most important part of the meeting is the blind draw for starting positions, with a preference for a later position. Between the short workouts and walkthroughs, there is much to do during the day. Though the downtime is very little, it is keeping the day very relaxed and routine. In their workmanlike approach, my daughters can often be found studying their practice video and leafing through their notes. It is staying with what they know, trusting in themselves and their horses.

finishing touches: flora and greenery for the 1.40 m Grand Prix course (CHP,  Jul 2017)

It is when the GP course build begins, a quiet anticipation grows among the riders. Having kept themselves busy for most of the day, they are ready to ride the event. The course length and its difficulty depends upon how the designer wants to challenge the horse and rider. Once the course build has been certified to specification, it becomes available for a walkthrough inspection by the riders. With a printed copy of the layout in hand, the riders will walk the course with an eye on every physical feature – from fence height and distances to the firmness of the footing material to sight lines.

the walkthrough: former RRC teammate and mentor, Megan (r), with her riding student Roxanne making her GP debut (CHP, Jul 2017)

While several riders will walk the course with their trainers (instructors), others will make it a solitary walk. My daughters walk the course together, quietly discussing their observations among themselves. They are also writing additional notes and observations. After completing their walkthrough, the girls secret themselves and talk about the best way to attack the course – which riding line is the safest, which one is the most aggressive, and which one is the best.

Once they finish their course analysis, my daughters tightly focus their remaining preparations on the event. It is their time to be alone in their thoughts, planning and visualizing their rides with no diversions and no distractions. The schedule and weather delays are taken in stride.

the golden boy: Mr. Ed receiving a perfect groom from Elizabeth before donning his show tack (CHP, Jul 2017)

A final brushing of their horses is a calming time between my daughters and their horses. They too are aware of the event before them. Soon, they will be dressed in their best show tack. The ground work is precise and methodical. Every hair, horse and rider, perfectly in place. My girls, absolutely perfect in their Grand Prix clothes.

It is time to be a champion.

the championship look: Captain Andrew Evan Stedman and Deborah (CHP, Jul 2017)

Counting: Twenty Two

A special post by Andrea Kanakredes, RN, MSN.

To be blessed with another beautiful princess was priceless. And, you are that, my baby princess.

Elizabeth: eyes for dad (age 5)

Though you liked the finer things, you were dad’s shadow. You loved to follow wherever he went. In many ways, you continue to accompany him wherever he goes.

When you napped with us, you snuggled ever so close to listen to our hearts beat, to listen to each breath taken. When we hold you close, you continue to listen for our rhythm. Our hearts melt whenever you have left handwritten notes of love for either of us. It is pure sweetness.

There is so much lying ahead of you, with unlimited possibilities. An intelligent and beautiful woman you have become. A successful equestrian, a talented musician. Our perfect baby princess.

Happy 22, baby!

xoxo
mom and dad

Riding: Iowa

It represents the halfway point of the back half of the 2017 season. Yet, plenty of riding remains. Practice for the two weeks away has been fairly straightforward. Much of it is staying sharp, staying crisp. Moreover, it is about staying with the technique that have brought them to this point. Consistency is valued at this point in the season. Trish is very pleased with how well the girls are riding. “They are riding better than ever before.”

Preparing on a short week has its advantages. It allows my daughters to have a steadier and narrower focus. The Iowa shows, though not CSI-rated*, are among the best on the AA circuit. They have the ability to draw some of the best riders from across the nation. My daughters know they must be on top of their game to be in a position to compete.

Tara and Cameron: deciding on the saddle pads (JN Ranch, Jul 30 2017)

Time to ride.

* CSI – Concours de Saut International, the rating system for show jumping events.

Riding: The Home Ground

Over the past few years, it has been riding away from home. The level of competition is much greater and more varied. Riding at a higher level certainly warrants this kind of approach. It is important to measure individual progress and to improve riding skills. It also requires more selectivity while constructing the show schedule. Traveling a long distance for one show and back home, that show likely does not make the schedule – though we’ve done it a few times. Making all the pieces fit – shows, practice, downtime – on the calendar is the difficult part. It provides invaluable experience for the younger equestrian contemplating a professional career.

Walk of Champions (Colorado Horse Park, July 2016)

This week, and next, the riding will be closer to home. These two shows are part of a summer series, which begins in early June and ends in late July, or early August. It is a nice series drawing riders from the Four Corners zone, the larger Intermountain West and the Midwest. With the away schedule, my daughters have used the month of July as downtime while maintaining their in-season practice schedule. Last summer, they rode the last show of the series. This summer, it is the last two shows of the series.

Riding the home ground has given the girls the opportunity to renew their ties with riding friends who still make the trek, here, for two, three or four weeks. They’ll also be sharing some of their experience with the five junior riders from RRC. Trish will have them shadow Deborah, Elizabeth and Tara like she had them shadow Greg, Sarah and Megan. Trish, she’ll be watching everything from the sidelines.

end of the day: Trish and Perry head back to the barn (RRC, July 6 2017)