Ten Days Of Perfection

During the last week of March, the attention of the horse world will be focused on the FEI World Cup in Omaha. It is the pinnacle of equestrian sports.

Instead, my daughters will be focused on their preparations for their 2017 riding season. Who wins, or does not win, in Omaha does not matter. Who rides well, or who didn’t, does not matter. With their season beginning a scant, six weeks later, in mid-May, it is ten days of everyday riding. It is ten days of requiring their best, and more.

Trish and Cameron visiting: “How are you today?”  (RRC, Mar 11 2017)

They prepare like elite professionals. The practice day is very structured, from beginning to end. Attention to detail is an imperative. Critical analysis is essential. While Trish can leave my girls to practice without much supervision, she watches from the sidelines. Like them, Trish, too, has her notepad in which she jots down her observations. After a segment is completed, the four will compare notes. This kind of off-saddle instruction allows them to have additional insight and analysis of their riding technique. The continual learning, including for a rider competing at the highest level, is a must.

warming up: Tara having a hot drink during a break at practice (RRC, Mar 11 2017)

While the practice sessions seem to be intense, they are fairly relaxed. If any mistakes are made, it is better to have them during practice. The repetitive nature of practice is also a good exercise in building patience and composure, and learning more about their equine partners. It is in championship moments when the hard work and staying disciplined make a difference.

If practice is any indicator, my girls are continuing to ride very well. They are riding fast, crisply and with precision, and have said, “better than last season.” They will know how well when they open their season.

Borrowing a line from their favorite rider, Kent Farrington, “Enjoy the process, not just the end result.” And, that is how they ride.

Elizabeth and SAM: kisses before practice (RRC, Mar 11 2017)

Coming Home

Written by Tara Scott Westin

“Look into their eyes, you will see their spirit. A spirit meant for freedom. A freedom that runs with the wind.”

The Native American Indians of the Great Plains were unequaled in their horsemanship. They were able to outride the best cavalrymen in the American West, earning them much respect and admiration. Their horsemanship skills were grounded in understanding the very essence of the horse. The trust between warrior and horse was absolute, and always as equals. It is in the knowing, and understanding, the essence of the horse which forms the cornerstone of learning horsemanship at RRC.

    *     *     *     *

On a recent, quiet Saturday afternoon, we had taken possession of one, very handsome grey. Abandoned at RRC by his previous owner, he lived a horse’s life. Paddock by day, stall by night. Mark and Trish made sure he had the comforts of home like every other horse stabled at RRC. His name, ridiculous and lame, RG-2. Who calls a horse by some unknown code listed on the ownership papers? Mark gave him a more proper name of Cloud Rider. He responded well to his name. Mark, however, heard Deborah call him G-Man one day and began calling him the same. He answered much better to G-Man.

G-Man checking out the grass after arriving at JN Ranch (Jan 2017)

During breaks in practice, Mark let Deborah walk G-Man in the covered ring. No lead rope, no halter to guide him except her voice and touch. It had taken weeks for Mark to bring him to this stage. When it comes to horses, those at three years old, with little to no training, are likely all instinct. Teaching options are fewer. Why the previous owner would bring a very raw horse into an equestrian setting is beyond puzzling. Mark thought the best G-Man could become is an escort horse or manager horse, one who would have a calming effect on other horses. If not, a steady and reliable working horse.

After striking an understanding with Mark, Deborah began working more with G-Man. Much of the work was centered on voice commands – forward, stop, back three paces, left, right. Yet, G-Man was resistant in wearing an halter – including a rope one. No halter she explained, “no can ride.” Two weekends later, Deborah was able to convince G-Man an halter was worth wearing. She had shown our horses, and others, wore halters. Whether he gave into her “nagging” or was convinced, it really didn’t matter. He began wearing a rope halter.

from Trish, G-Man wearing his leather halter (JN Ranch, Jan 2017)

Deborah ramped up the instruction, walking and running with a lead rope attached to his halter. Soon, the time arrived to be under saddle. “Unbroken,” Mark said, “it’ll make for an interesting ride.” He slowly mounted G-Man and had him take a few steps forward. After a short break, Mark had G-Man walk the ring for a few minutes – doing the basics he practiced with Mark and Trish, and with Deborah. G-Man passed his first test.

Though Mark and Trish knew he would be coming home with us, there was a little melancholy in seeing him leave. They had seen him progress from a very green horse to one with basic skills. Trish made sure he had his own kit – grain bag, hay net, a pair of customized halters, a saddle pad and a bag of his favorite treats.

While his time under saddle is limited, G-Man continues to do well in learning the basics. Deborah said it is a matter of time when his time under saddle will begin to increase. Since coming to the JN Ranch, being around our horses, and the ranch horses, it has been a good experience and influence for G-Man.

contemplating the future: Deborah and G-Man (JN Ranch, Jan 2017)

What ever his future maybe, G-Man, formally known as Cloud Rider, will undoubtedly have a good one under the steady hand of Deborah.

About the author

Tara Scott Westin is a fifth year senior attending the University of Colorado. She will be graduating this coming May with a BS in Biology (Microbiology). She graduated with honors from St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Colorado Springs in 2012.

A highly decorated rider with the Rustler Riding club, Tara has won multiple blue ribbons and other placement ribbons with her horses, Brie, Cameron and Candace (Happy Girl). In 2006, she was named Comeback Rider of the Year – the only non-competitive rider in Rustler Riding Club history to win this award.

“Ride now, ride forever”

Riding Inside The Margins

Written by Deborah Anne Ramos

The heat and humidity had made for a stifling day. Other than a light morning workout, we had the day off from competing. We watched a few junior hunters ride their classes, but our main desire was staying cool and staying in the shade. The plan was to spray off the horses in the late afternoon then have a nice dinner in Des Moines later that evening.

In a semi-shady spot, we settled back to do some people and horse watching. We knew it would be a slow, lazy afternoon. While chatting about nothing in particular for an hour, the PA system came to life asking for the presence of the EMTs and the vet in the main hunter ring. Though it was a short walk from where we were sitting, we stayed put. Whatever was happening, it wasn’t good.

And, it wasn’t. A horse and rider down.

    *     *     *     *

Though it was hoped all would be well in a few minutes, every sense was saying it was a devastating moment. A moment that does not happen too often. We could see the main hunter ring was being cleared, and the audience moved away to another section of the horse park.  Tara understood it all too well.

Jasper: not far from Tara’s thoughts everyday (RRC, May 2004)

The rider, a newly-minted junior from Minnesota, walked past with tears streaming down her face along with her trainer and parents. Most ironic was that we had met and talked with the young rider the day before. She was so excited being at her first AA show, eagerly hoping to do well. Any 14 year old rider would be.

Within a half-hour, we flinched when we heard that sound. Dad didn’t flinch. The horse’s injury had to be most grievous.

  *     *     *     *

The accident had put a damper on the remainder of the day. Everything had an anti-climatic feel.

An early arrival at the horse barn the next morning, we had seen the junior and her parents already packing her gear to head home. They were also getting her other horse ready for travel. Tara walked over and chatted with them for almost 15 minutes. She encouraged the young rider to take her time in returning to the saddle. The saying of “quickly climbing back on the saddle” is easier said than done. And, probably longer to get back into the proper frame of mind to compete again.

They were appreciative of Tara coming over and talking with them. No other riders, except for us, had taken the time to see how they were doing. We wished them well, and hoped to see them once again under better circumstances.

  *     *     *     *

Though riders are noted for their mental and physical toughness, this type of accident is much different. How does one come back from this kind of experience? Not easily. Tara had her own experience, but says she is still very much a work in progress.

Mark told Tara, when she returned to riding, it was okay to be unsure. It will take time to rebuild the confidence – more riding would lead to more confidence. Of course, the most difficult part of her return was the mental part. Most unavoidable was the second guessing. Tara had to learn how to trust herself and to trust her skills again. The hardest part – Tara giving herself permission to be a rider again.

Tara & Cameron: GP Qualifier – 1.35 M (Texas, May 2014)

In the nearly thirteen years since her accident, the memories remain fresh in the back of her mind. If you watch Tara ride, now, you wouldn’t think she had an accident. Tara doesn’t hold back one bit. She rides fast and crisp, and can ride aggressive lines with ease. And, she is a very disciplined rider. Tara calls it “riding inside the margins”.

With those still lingering memories, Tara says it has made her into a better rider everyday – better today than yesterday, better tomorrow than today.

Brie: the one who brought Tara back (RRC, Oct 2014)

 

Postscript

We’ve chatted with the young rider from Minnesota, three times, since that day. She has resumed riding, the slow and easy kind, but is very uncertain about riding in competition again. She added, “I would not compete ever again. It’s an easy decision in that regard.”

 

About the author

Deborah Anne Ramos is a fifth-year senior attending the University of Colorado. She will be graduating this coming May with a BS in Biology (Animal Science). She graduated with highest honors from Machebeuf Catholic High School in Denver in 2012.

A highly decorated equestrian with the Rustler Riding Club, Deborah has earned Horse of the Year and Rider of the Year awards with the club. Additionally, she has won multiple blue ribbons, and other placement ribbons, with Comet, Captain Andrew Evan Stedman, and SAM: Secret Agent Man.

“Ride now, ride forever”

Off Season: At Mid-Winter

And, it is back on the saddle.

the daily wardrobe: Deborah zipping up her tall boots over her breeches

While their 2016 season ended a few weeks ago, the girls have turned their attention to preparing for the 2017 season. The priority is sharpening their skills in advance of the two events they’ll be riding at the National Western Stock Show in two weeks. Much of their practices will be done at the RRC indoor arena. While a few sessions will be supervised by Trish, the girls will be left to practice by themselves. The complexity, thoroughness, and crispness of those practices can become quite intense. Not only does it raise their level of competitiveness, it also raises their level of riding.

advanced booking: the RRC indoor arena ready for a 7:00 am practice session (Dec 26 2016)

To prepare, they have studied several hours of video and over 2,000 photos. Their note-taking is extensive. No observation is insignificant. The aim is to improve their skill set and technique, and build on the successes of last season achieved in practice and in competition. Similarly, it is equally important to learn from the not-so-good moments and make the proper adjustments to minimize the bad habits and mistakes. Also, they rely on each other by sharing their observations of a ride during practice and competition.

The attention to detail and the level of preparation are the two qualities that Mark and Trish have appreciated in the girls. They simply go out and ride with their best effort. Moreover, they are not caught up in the statistical mish-mash (rankings, points, etc.) of the sport. Nor are they concerned about which show or which event is more prestigious. The important factor, though, is having fun.

In the coming season, the three agree the greater challenge will be putting together another season like the last. They rode very well, always in contention for the top ribbons. The expectations for the coming season are very likely higher.

fence rails: waiting to be used (RRC, Dec 28 2016)

If their practice sessions are any indicator, they may be riding better. A better indicator, shaving .20 seconds off the winning time for the FEI World Cup Grand Prix in Las Vegas.

 

Inside The Nationals

“A horse will do anything its rider will ask of it. Not every talented rider will earn an appearance at a national horse show or world cup competition. A rider needs more than talent, drive, dedication, discipline and resources to reach that level. They need those intangibles that takes them to the next level as a rider.”

It is a teaching point Mark and Trish instruct their riding students, regardless of level, in their hunter program. Before reaching that point, every student must learn a skill set featuring strong, sound fundamentals in horsemanship. It is learning to ride and learning to understand a horse – how it thinks, actions and reactions, its response to pressure and stress, and learning its physical limitations. Learn and know all of this, and more, along with knowing how to properly care for one, it is the first step in becoming a true rider.

A national horse show is the one show a rider simply cannot add to their calendar.  Earning a slot in a national is a recognition in the level of riding. Simply, a rider needs a body of work in riding excellence. It is more than a history of riding in AA rated shows and winning blue and red ribbons. It is more than rankings. Equitation matters, consistency matters, and competitiveness matters. Outside the show ring, it is the work in the off-season and preparing for a new season, practice sessions between shows and at shows, and the work off-saddle. It is a commitment to a work ethic, and always working to improve show after show and year over year.

Las Vegas Nationals: the hotel-casino side of the South Point

For five days in November, Las Vegas loses its “Sin City” moniker, replaced by “Show Jump City“. The South Point Equestrian Center becomes the center of the horse world and the FEI World Cup tour in North America. In the local sports, it is the lead story. Names of riders, only known in the jumping world, are mentioned in the same breath with top athletes from other sports.

8:00 pm Saturday, Nov 19

The most anticipated event of the Las Vegas Nationals was almost ready to begin – the FEI Longines World Cup Grand Prix. The field consisted of 33 World Cup jumpers and 7 riders from the USA horse show circuit, all qualified by their finish in the Welcome Jumper Speed Classic held two nights earlier. In the filled arena, the atmosphere and the anticipation was absolutely electric. A few of the top riders have been interviewed about their chances and what it would mean to win the marquee event. They all agree it will be a challenging event. Adding to the challenge, the course design by Guilherme Jorge. Having designed the jumper courses in Rio, he is known for his technically demanding but fair courses.

Though many of the riders are from the USA, it is truly an international field with riders from the UK, Germany, Canada, Mexico, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand and beyond. It is a mix of Olympic riders, seasoned professionals, hot-shots and rookies. If there is one trait the entire field shares, it is their high level of confidence. It is the one sport which each rider knows the field of competition is even, that anyone can win the event.

horse barn: our neighbors from North Carolina

Among the rookies are my three girls, four others from the USA horse show circuit, and four mid-season entrants making their first appearance on the World Cup tour. The rookie group was told they will not appear in the final, official results unless it is a top-ten finish. It is an oddity within the FEI rulebook fine print in how points are awarded and rankings are ordered. Within the rookie group, it is not much of a concern since riding in the marquee event is a reward in itself.

While the stage is larger, the expectations greater, the aim was to treat this event, this ride, like any other event. Each rider goes through their normal routines. Those riding in the top half of the draw were warming up in the arena next door while the Parade of Nations and other pre-event festivities unfolded. The background music ends, a hush settles on the audience, the PA announcer begins his introduction of the event.

A Call to Ride

The first five riders are called. Tara, riding fourth, is ready with her bay, Cameron. A little nervous as always, but with a squeeze of her hand she flashes a smile. They are led down the tunnel to the holding area just off the arena floor. The first rider of the event proceeds directly to the “hole”, the location just before heading into the start area and the in-gate. When its her turn in the hole, Tara mounts up. She is all business. The smiles are gone, the slight nervousness is gone. Her aim, be the leader going into the intermission as the top half of the draw finishes. It is a tall order, but achievable.

Riding into the start area, Tara whispers words of sweetness into Cameron’s left ear. It is a breathtaking, surreal moment. The arena is SRO full, with the scoreboards showing a live close-up of her face and that of Cameron. Below it, her competition number, name and country – 389 Westin, Tara Scott USA. The overhead scoreboard shows the ranking for the event. The first three riders occupy first, second and third place. Places four through eight are blank. The PA announcer, reading her formal introduction and giving Cameron’s formal name, Tara has tuned out everything as she awaits the signal that she may start.

She and Cameron starts. Tara’s eyes are already focused on fence #4 as they clear fence #1. Fence #2 clear, fence #3 clear, fence #4 clear. Clearing fence #16, they have a clean ride. It is polite applause from the audience. When Tara’s time flashes on the scoreboard, a few cheers are added to the applause. It is 72.19 seconds, nearly three seconds ahead of the now second-place rider. She has turned heads. Tara knows many more riders are yet to come. It is a course that can be completed in the 72 second range when the girls did their walkthrough earlier in the evening. In riding the course, Tara has learned a few “tells”, information she hopes to relay to Elizabeth and Deborah.

A waiting game, Tara begins to check off names. Two riders are DNF, one retire. Through 12 riders, her time is holding up. Though her nearly three-second lead is being chipped away, the audience is wondering if Tara, a little known rider, has opened the door to an upset in the making. Still waiting in the wings are Elizabeth and Deborah, with Elizabeth scheduled as the second to last rider before intermission. A very sharp WC rider takes the lead at 72.11 seconds.

Two riders later, it is now Elizabeth in the start area. Scantly studying the overhead scoreboard, she has tuned everything out. Her eyes are a study in concentration. Lilith is ready to go. Elizabeth strokes Lilith’s neck to calm her down. A timer issue is causing a delay, but wasn’t too long. They receive their signal they may start.

Elizabeth and Lilith: making 1.50 m jumps an optical illusion

Fast out of the in-gate, Elizabeth quickly clears Lilith over fence #1. With information from Tara, Elizabeth is setting an aggressive riding line by looking farther down the course. Fence #2 clear, fence #3 clear, fence #4 clear, fence #5 clear. A few of the other WC riders have taken notice of Elizabeth’s aggressive riding line. She has ridden the course cleanly with Lilith in near-perfect rhythm. The audience is enjoying clean ride after clean ride. When Elizabeth’s time of 71.78 is posted, a rousing round of cheers follow. If this was a baseball game, Elizabeth would have to come out and doff her hat. What she has done is lay down a challenge to the riders yet to come.

Building Anticipation –

During the intermission, the warm-up arena is busy. The first ten riders of the second half of the draw are slowly walking their horses. In the show arena, the excitement is building in the stands. They know the best riders are yet to come, many competitive in this branch of the WC tour. For the moment, Elizabeth is first and Tara is third. A couple of riders complimented Elizabeth and Tara for riding well. The usual questions are asked: where they’re from, whom are they training with, how long they’ve been riding, and do they plan to ride internationally or on the WC tour in North America. Naturally, they ask how good is Deborah. Both say she is very good.

With intermission finishing, the call for the first five riders is given. Leading off this group is Deborah. Every rider following her is a top-tier rider. In the hole, Deborah is boosted up onto her champion, Comet. Riding into the start area, Deborah scans the course. Her expression, pretty but icy.

Like Elizabeth, Deborah is fast out of the in-gate and clears fence #1. She is riding the same aggressive line and looking farther down the course. Fence #2 clear, fence #3 clear, fence #4 clear. Coming out of fence #5, a slight bauble but they’re fine. Deborah finishes the course cleanly. She has a feeling the bauble at fence #5 cost them precious time. When her time of 71.73 is posted, Deborah is amazed. Back in the warm-up arena, Elizabeth and Tara high-fives her.

The top riders follow. They are the ones the audience have come to see. The next rider betters Deborah’s 71.73. In the unofficial results, Deborah finished 12th, Elizabeth tied 14th and Tara 16th.

The Mixer

It is well past 11:00 pm, but in true Las Vegas style, a late-night mixer among the riders and fans of the World Cup tour follows. The riders of the moment are the top five finishers – Christian Heineking (GER), Enrique Gonzales (MEX), Tina Yates (USA), Jamie Barge (USA) and Hanna Mauritzson (SWE). The mixer is a little networking, a little socializing and plenty of horse talk.

Autographs are exchanged, including some fans asking for autographs from my girls. They loved seeing them ride so well, and holding their own against the more experienced professionals. When asked if they’ll be riding at the WC level anytime soon, they reply it would be a while, noting plenty of work and gaining experience still needs to be done.

Many of the conversations among the riders are one of mutual respect and admiration. Conversing with my daughters, the more experienced riders were very complimentary of their talent and potential. They encouraged them to stay with their plan and timetable in gaining experience and polishing their skill set.

The best compliment – they belong.

Warming the Ride

With a nice and fairly mild October and November, the weather has finally caught up with the calendar. These early days of December have been decidedly colder, with overnight temperatures in the single digits above zero (° F). Last Friday (Dec 2), a new record of the latest, first measurable snowfall was set, eclipsing the previous record of Nov 28 2010.

As expected, the weekend riding has started later in the morning. In between the riding, hot cocoa kept the girls warm.

before riding: Deborah with perfect nails

hot cocoa break: Tara’s perfect nails staying perfect after an hour of horse grooming

By noon, the heavier outerwear was shed in favor of lighter weight fleece, which makes for better riding. After lunch, it was riding three rounds of exercises until late afternoon. Deborah gave G-Man another ride before settling him down. He did like the idea of working out with Brie, Captain Andrew and SAM. They didn’t seem to mind his presence too much.

staying warm: Elizabeth waiting on Deborah and Tara to load their horses

It appears hot cocoa will be on the training table over the next few weeks.

A New Addition

Practice was going poorly with Comet, so it seemed. Clearly frustrated, Deborah asked to take a break from the session. Once dismounted, she flung off her helmet. Walking over to it, she kicked it over a fence panel at the opposite end of the practice ring. It is not often Deborah expresses her frustrations. After Elizabeth finished her round, I motioned for her to check up on her sister. They sat together, quietly watching Tara work through the complicated circle exercise. Not a word was exchanged between the two. A few moments later, they hugged and walked over to Trish. My girl had regained her composure. After talking with Trish, Deborah remounted Comet and flawlessly rode the exercise twice through.

While sitting alone, Deborah had taken notice of a handsome grey in the adjoining corral area. He was studiously watching the practice session in between his munching. It was like he understood everything – all the actions of a hunter/jumper going through the paces. The grey wandered off into another part of his corral to take in more of the September sun.

On the way home, Deborah worked on making the troublesome circle exercise course more difficult on her tablet. She asked Elizabeth and Tara for their input on the adjustments. A couple phone calls to Trish, the following week’s exercise course would be more demanding and possibly with a time limit. During the last call, Deborah asked about the handsome grey.

The grey had been abandoned at RRC when its rider/owner suddenly dropped out of the advanced riding class in early summer. Since that person did not return any of Mark’s calls or responded to his letters, he decided to keep the grey. The grey was going to be a project for Mark. He had not been under saddle nor halter trained, and only allowed to have a loose lead rope around the neck. Having a three year old, with a blank slate, is an exceedingly rare opportunity.

G-Man indoors after having his mane and tail trimmed (RRC, Oct 2016)

During the following week’s practice, Deborah made an offer – she would take the grey, train him, keep him as a forever horse pending clearance of the abandonment period and a vet check. Mark thought about it for a few minutes and said he would take the offer. One condition – if the grey proves too much to handle, Deborah is to return him. A handshake deal is made.

It is not like we need another horse. He’s willful, tall, and very muscular. His new name, G-Man. It is only fitting since we have a Secret Agent Man and a Starfleet Captain (Andrew). Will G-Man become a hunter? Only time will tell. But, since that September weekend, G-Man has adjusted to wearing a loose rope halter and has been under saddle three times with Deborah, once with Mark and once with Trish.

G-Man will move down to the JN Ranch soon as he clears the abandonment period on December 19. He has already passed his vet check.