Red, White & Blue Classic: Fourth of July

It is Grand Prix Day in San Juan Capistrano.

Tonight, under the lights, beginning at 8:00 pm PT, twenty-three riders and their horses will compete over a 13 obstacle/16 effort, 1.45m course. The best riders. The best horses. What better way to finish a holiday weekend. What better way to culminate four weeks of shows. The Grand Prix, the premier event of this show week.

Saturday became a day off with the Grand Prix scheduled for Sunday evening. The half-day of events normally done on Sunday were integrated into the Saturday schedule. Saturday remained a very busy day.

Those who were practicing for the Grand Prix drew watchers throughout the day. Most watched were the daughters. Every move watched. The younger riders hoping to learn, perhaps get an autograph too.

Tara: practice time with Cayleigh Forester (Rancho Mission Viejo RP, Jul 03 3021)

 

waiting at morning workout with Sophia and Cameron (Rancho Mission Viejo RP, Jul 04 2021)

This morning was thoroughly busy. The morning riders’ meeting followed by a light workout and practice session. A return to our home away home for lunch and to relax. At mid-afternoon, a return to RMV for the course walkthrough. After the walkthrough, the daughters separate to prepare themselves individually. In the last hour before the start, it is their ready time. They are quiet. They are focused.

This evening is the highly anticipated match-up between team members Deborah, Elizabeth and Tara.

The time to be a champion is near.

The Saugerties: The Long Day

Another day, another early start.

On Thursday, it was the perfunctory FEI veterinary check, a piece of officialdom. Part and parcel of riding at the FEI level, it is a review of veterinary documents for each horse, and a very cursory exam. Officials check through a horse’s documentation like a disinterested border guard. They look through an FEI passport for the latest vaccination stamps. Practically every horse has a supplementary binder filled with vaccination certificates, CHEM 25 reports, veterinary reports and more. They are the items that do not fit nicely into the passport.

awarded: an FEI passport presented to Odyssey, owner: Deborah Anne Ramos (Saugerties, NY, USA May 27 2021)

The number of horses dictate the amount of time set aside for the check. With 125-140 horses in the FEI draw at Saugerties, the aim was to complete the check within three hours. The inspection process is very pro forma.

On the board, the $36,600 Saugerties Welcome, 1.45m, an FEI event. The field, 39 riders. The course, a turning, highly technical, 13 obstacle/16 effort layout. Ride too fast would result in losing the riding line. Ride too slow, not enough momentum to vault the higher 1.60m fences.

Elizabeth drew the unenviable first start. It presented the opportunity to set the standard for the rest of field. The ride needed to be precise, clean turns and transitions. And, if possible, to put the event out of reach. It seemed she had accomplished that outcome. Finishing her round, Elizabeth and Lilith posted a time of 69.02 sec. Extraordinarily fast for a technical course. Elizabeth was far from pleased. She had put one rail down, leaving the door open. Seizing the opportunity, however, was not happening. Rider after rider was failing to put together a clear round. A rail down here, a rail down there. Two rails down. Three rails down. Quietly charting rides, Elizabeth was seeing no other rider was close to her time.

Deborah and Comet in pursuit of the lead, 1.45m Saugerties Welcome (Saugerties, NY May 27 2021)

With Deborah and Comet on the course, it appeared they would become the new leader with a clear round. Until a rail fell on the last fence. Their time, middle of the pack at 74.09 sec. They could finish no worst than 8th. Twenty minutes later, it was Tara and Cameron from the 29th position. A slight bauble going into #5, rail down. Crossing to the right side of the course, a moment of indecision flashed across Tara’s mind. “Do I wave off?” But, she and Cameron were already going over #7, a double-single combination. Tara stayed with ride, finishing at 71.01, the second fastest time on the course.

Still, no rider had a clear round. It may come down to the fastest time with the fewest penalties, and that would be Elizabeth. The last rider on the course, Kristi, from NorCal. The daughters know her by reputation, a strong, technical rider. A former eventer, the course layout was ideal for her skill set. Halfway through, Elizabeth whispered to Trish, “Kristi has it.” Kristi finished clear at 74.97. Finishing second was Elizabeth, Tara third. Deborah finished 7th.

During the presser, afterwards, Kristi was asked about being a giant killer. “I caught a lucky break. I was leaning right going into the lefthand double-double combination. Fortunately, my horse knew we were supposed to go left.” Kristi was asked again about being a giant killer. “Elizabeth is a great rider. She was going to win this, no doubt about it. I caught a couple breaks and was able to finish clear. If the course was one fence longer, you’d be asking her about another win. We were out of gas.”

Minutes later, it was the daughters’ turn at the presser. “Elizabeth, what did you feel when Kristi won?” She replied there was a certain relief. “When you have a streak going, there’s a certain relief when it’s broken. You can go back to being a normal rider, working hard, studying hard to be better. Things in this sport can change on a dime. That’s its nature. Kristi is a fantastic rider. She has a strong skill set. Kristi did what she needed to do to win today, I didn’t. That’s your story.”

Two hours later, it was riding another event, the $1,500 1.40m Open Jumper, an FEI/USEF event.

Elizabeth vaulting SAM: Secret Agent Man over a 1.55m fence (1.40m Open Jumper, Saugerties, NY May 27 2021)

Tara clearing Candace (Happy Girl) over double oxer fence #4 (1.40m Opener Jumper, Saugerties, NY May 27 2021)

A familiar result: Elizabeth, winning double clear with SAM: Secret Agent Man 72.06/37.83. Second place: Deborah, double clear with Captain Andrew 71.62/37.99. Third place: Tara with Candace (Happy Girl) 73.47/38.02/4 penalty points.

Saratoga: Week Two

Week Two in Saratoga began Thursday. It will wrap this evening with the Grand Prix event.

winning ride: Elizabeth and SAM: Secret Agent Man, USHJA National Hunter Derby (Saratoga Spring II, May 14 2021)

The daughters are having excellent meets. Though rated as Level A shows, both have the feel and competitiveness of Premier AA level shows. It is likely the result of drawing a field of riders who normally compete at the AA level.

Also, Odyssey and Shelby have been performing well on the larger stage. It hasn’t been too big for them. They are probably ready to step onto the AA level stage soon. Yet, there is no hurry to get them to the next level. The larger stage, though, may come sooner than expected.

winning ride: Deborah and Odyssey 1.20m Open Jumper (4/5) (Saratoga Spring III, May 20 2021)

The pleasant surprise was the arrival of Brie on Friday morning, accompanied by Trish. The expectation was she would become available over the next two weeks, certainly ready for the SoCal portion of the season. Dr. Kennerly cleared her to compete. With her shoes arriving late, Brie needed some time to become more accustomed to the feel and fit. Trish did the workout sessions with Brie, with an eye on her movement, and through full practice courses. She said Brie did well, and is riding fast.

During the Saturday morning workout, Brie was looking very sharp with Trish in control of the reins. But, of course, Trish is an excellent rider in her own right. She has competed at the highest level of the sport, finishing with 49 wins in 129 World Cup starts.

Trish and Brie: before the Saturday morning workout (White Hollow Farm, Saratoga May 22 2021)

Side Notes

The shows were fairly quiet, though, open to general public attendance, capped at 25%. COVID restrictions remained in place, with certain areas off-limits to the public.

Saratoga: Travel Day

A special post by Lauren Westin, MD.

Travel day is the longest. It starts early and ends late. The attention to detail is a priority. The precious cargo, the horses and my family.

Given the experience, last June, Qatar Airways Cargo was chosen again to transport the horses from Denver to Saratoga. The entire process is carefully choreographed to ensure the safety and comfort of the horses while in transport, and on the ground in Denver and Saratoga. The departure itinerary is finalized with approximate departure and arrival times, with the on-time schedule guaranteed. Again, they would transit through the FedEx terminals in Denver and Saratoga.

Griffin will be serving as the chief groom, with her daughter, Sophia, as her assistant. The daughters have given Griffin broad authority and discretion in management of the horses. In itself, it is an extraordinary conveyance. They trust her implicitly.

loading the horses for transport to the FedEx facility at DIA (BellaK Horse Farm, May 9 2021)

With an early departure time, Monday morning, at 4:30 am, the horses were transferred to a temporary stable, Sunday evening, at the FedEx facility. Griffin supervised her groom team through the overnight hours before departure. We arrived at the FedEx facility at 2:30 am for in-processing, which included providing registry and veterinary documents for each horse, proof of identity, proof of COVID test results or vaccination. Griffin also briefed the girls on the horses and the updated itinerary.

The horses were traveling business class. To distribute the weight more evenly, on the cargo deck, each horse was given their own stall, which is a first class accommodation. Two additional cargo containers were loaded. One containing the baggage and tack equipment, and the other with extra hay and water for the flight.

final loading of Qatar Airways Cargo Flight 1098SP (DIA, May 10 2021)

Onboard the Boeing 777-200LR plane, the same accommodations were present. A small passenger section consisting of twelve business class seats, a pair of restrooms, and a self-serve galley. David, the girls, Griffin and Sophia were the only passengers.

With everyone onboard, Qatar Airways Cargo Flight 1098SP, non-stop from Denver to Saratoga, was ready to depart, 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

FedEx Terminal, Denver International Airport (4:15 am, May 10 2021)

Saratoga represents the most complex trip undertaken by our girls, and the farthest from home.

Side Notes

David tolerated the trip to Saratoga very well. Not bad for someone who was discharged from the hospital three weeks ago.

Riding: The Season Begins

On Wednesday, they will begin riding for real.

Tara and Cameron, 1.45m Jumper Open, Del Mar International Welcome Week CSI3* (Oct 2017)

The daughters have been riding a highly-structured training program to prepare. It begins in January with flatwork, the foundational cornerstone in equestrian sports. It progresses towards jumping full practice courses by March. When the calendar flips to April, it is riding with speed, crispness and fluidity. By May, they are riding at competition level.

While they have been riding on and off through their off-season, the first day of training is riding with focus and discipline. The checklist they have assembled is extensive. It is precise and detailed. The training sessions are done at a steady, flexible pace. The need to push the training harder and faster is unnecessary. The horses, now in their prime, pick up on the training as they advance through the schedule.

dressage transitions with Lilith: Elizabeth listening to instructions from Trish (North Ranch, Apr 2021)

Though it is all business, they have fun. Kent Farrington, one of their favorite riders, said you have to love it all. From long, hard practice days to bitter disappointments in the show ring. When everything comes together in practice and in competition, it makes all the work and time you’ve invested more sweeter. “You’re riding for only one reason, you live to ride.”

The flatwork sessions are primarily dressage exercises focusing on tempo and motion. They form the technical foundation for jumpers. Add the grid exercises, circle exercises, slalom exercises, turning exercises, and cavaletti exercises, the sport is more than jumping a horse over a fence. Together, they are the core skill set for a showjumper. Practicing the fundamentals is how one becomes better. The best professional riders are always practicing their fundamentals, even with the horses they have ridden over several seasons.

Additionally, the daughters have watched every single frame of video from the practice sessions. They have watched every single frame of competition video from the previous season. They break down each ride. The good, bad, and in-between, noting what worked and what didn’t work. No detail is too small.

riding notes and details from Deborah’s 2019 season

How they prepare for a season hasn’t changed much since Trish did the planning. It is the same template Trish used when she was the young rider. She slowly gave the girls more responsibility in how they prepared themselves, much like how she was given more responsibility by her coach. The girls were given complete control of their own training in 2017. “They have the work ethic to handle the added responsibility. Also, they thoroughly study and understand their own riding.

Trish continues to watch the practice sessions from the sidelines, writing her own notes on what they can do better. Afterwards, they compare notes. Often in a technical shorthand only they understand.

“They are ready.”

Winter Storm

Low clouds, intermittent fog, and intermittent freezing drizzle were the prevailing conditions for much of Friday. All ahead of a winter storm forecasted to bring heavy snow to the Colorado Front Range.

brief appearance of sun at midday Friday (JN Ranch, March 12 2021)

The forecast models, at the start of the week, suggested snowfall amounts measured in feet. By midweek, those projections were pared back into the 10-24 inch range. At week’s end, the snowfall projections were reduced slightly but largely stayed the same. The private AccuWeather® forecast for JN Ranch indicated a snowfall potential in the 10-16 inch range, with temperatures in the upper 20s to low 30s. Icing conditions are expected before the snow begins in earnest.

Preparing for the storm, this week, has been a priority. The JN Ranch, in the middle of calving season, they’ve been moving their cattle to more protected areas of their winter range. Mothers who have not given birth are moved closer to the ranch complex. While bitter cold is not expected, the heavy snowfall potential for most of today, and the potential for blizzard conditions from late tonight through early Monday morning pose the greatest risk to calves. If they become too wet, the shiver effect can become more serious than bitter cold.

At North Ranch, we are substantially less affected by the winter storm. The horses will stay indoors for the duration of the storm. Our preparations involve topping the feedstock supplies in the horse barn. After the storm, it is snow removal from two, close-in paddocks. Removing the snow minimizes the amount of ice and mud on the ground. Both pose the greatest footing hazard for horses.

How cold it will become after the storm will depend how much snow we receive. The coming week is forecasted to be much colder, with daytime temperatures in the upper 30s and the overnights in the lower 20s.

Easy Like Sunday

When they rode last, Elizabeth was earning her 15th win in 15 starts. Her performance, along with Deborah and Tara, was dominant in Saratoga. They realized, “I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life,” in every sense.

Since returning, they haven’t had the opportunity to ride until now. The priorities of medical school took precedence. They needed to complete the laboratory courses from the spring term. The fall term began the following week. Coupled with the ever shifting pandemic conditions, they opted to stay in Aurora rather than come home over the weekends. Also, they were subject to random COVID testing, requiring them to be available 24/7.

back in sync: Deborah and Comet (North Ranch, Nov 19 2020)

With six weeks off, it is making up for lost time, getting back in riding shape. The horses, they were ready to return to work. Grid exercises. Circle exercises. Cavaletti exercises. All the fundamentals. The pleasant weather has allowed them to practice outside. Trish is scheduled to come down, next week, to oversee the practice sessions for three days. Those practices will set the stage to resume jumping.

Saratoga: Fourth of July

It is the Fourth of July. Down the road, the battlefield where the Continental Army earned an important victory, in October 1777, stopping an offensive that would have given British forces nominal control of the Hudson River Valley and the Champlain Valley. The best laid of plans failed when the necessary forces did not appear, to flank the American positions.

Two-hundred and forty-three years later, the stakes are fewer. It is Grand Prix Day at White Hollow Farm.

Under the lights, at 8:30 pm ET, nineteen riders and their horses will begin to compete over a 13 obstacle/16 effort, 1.45 m course. The Grand Prix is the premiere event of this show week. The best riders. The best horses. While there are favorites, the event can be won by anyone. Seasoned professional or one making their first Grand Prix start ever. The field of competition is level. Deborah often says, the NFL maxim of “on any given Sunday …” applies.

practice time: Comet waits his turn for a short practice at mid-morning (White Hollow Farm, Saratoga, Jul 04 2020)

Much of the day was staying loose, the daughters and their horses. A light workout and short practice in the morning. A little people watching. And, a couple of short naps, helped along by a warm summer day. Once the course walkthrough was completed, in the late afternoon, the girls separated to prepare themselves individually. In the last hour before the start, it is their ready time. Stretching exercises and changing into their Grand Prix clothes. Equally as busy are Griffin and Sophia, getting Lilith, Comet and Cameron ready. A final check, by the girls, follows.

The smiles, the chatter, have faded away, replaced by a laser focus in their eyes.

The time to be a champion has drawn near.

Saratoga: Week Three

The quiet mornings. The quiet evenings.

Nestled among, surrounded, by trees. Birds singing their songs of summer. A neigh, or two, can be heard.

Horses and Saratoga are synonymous. Several horse farms dot the area. It is home to the legendary racetrack, in which nearly every thoroughbred of note have raced in their careers. Elizabeth’s Lilith had a turn on the track, as a promising two-year old filly, in the undercard at the Travers Stakes. Unfortunately, Lilith’s run was not a good one. She practiced well during the week to race day, but finished third to last. Stepping off the plane, then off the trailer, Lilith knew she had been here before. The difference, Elizabeth, her similarly strong-willed partner. In their first event, in the first week, Elizabeth saw to the vanquishing of any lingering ghosts from the past.

Elizabeth and Lilith: the look of champions (White Hollow Farm, Saratoga, Jun 18 2020)

Closed to the public, the shows have been a quiet experience. The distractions are few. Without family, friends and followers, those in the show ring are cheered on by their fellow riders. It is a more relaxed atmosphere. Vendor row, which is the hub of activity at a show, reflected the relaxed atmosphere. A single catering business. A single horse supply business. A single farrier. Lunch, itself, was a happening. It was more of a picnic, and a break in the day’s action.

On one off day, between shows, the professionals, Deborah, Tara and Elizabeth traded stories from the tour. And, of course, trading lockdown stories. They definitely charmed the younger riders. On another off day, a clinic by a trainer, for the younger riders, on how to prepare for a show. In prior years, rarely would such off day events be held. Perhaps, a media day or a fan appreciation day. It was a bit of brightness.

At the end of Week Three, many of the professionals will move on. Maybe to Traverse City. Maybe to Florida. Maybe to Lexington. The daughters, it will be back to Colorado for them. They have a couple of lab courses to complete before the start of their third year at med school. One of the professionals asked if they will be giving discounts. Tara, who is a live wire, said, “Certainly. I’ll discount to 110% from the standard 125%, provided you have an insurance card.” When asked if an auto insurance card would qualify, she replied it would.

The stay in Saratoga has gone by much too quickly. Like the saying goes, “All good things …”

Saratoga: Week One

A special post by Lauren Westin, MD.

If sunrise was the measure, the first one they saw in Saratoga said their first week was going to be a good one.

The first, full day at White Hollow Farm was busy. Many riders were arriving. The main business of the day was in-processing. Official paperwork, from registry records to veterinary records to event entry forms, and then some, ready to be presented along with an FEI or USEF passport. Stall assignments, learning your way around the complex, part of the process. When the girls arrived Monday afternoon, they did their in-processing while Griffin and Sophia settled in the horses. Everyone, including the horses, were tired. Losing two hours to the time zone change …

Keeping it simple and relaxed. This was the plan for the first day. Griffin briefed the girls on each horse, ahead of the morning feed. She noted they tolerated the trip very well. No stress issues. No physical issues. While the horses largely have the same diet, they have specific individual needs. After the feed, it was a short walk around. A light workout followed in a practice arena. Some of the new arrivals couldn’t help to notice their activity, watching intently.

During the workout, Griffin watched each horse and charted each step for the girls. Sophia kept track of who was watching the workout. Next, it was the allotted paddock time to cool down and graze. Griffin and Sophia kept an eye on the horses. Once their paddock time was over, it was back to the barn to relax for the remainder of the day. And, maybe, another walk in the late afternoon.

The show experience is a carefully coordinated routine. It is about keeping things normal as possible.

COVID Impact

A horse show is a busy affair. The COVID restrictions, however, have made for a quieter, but very business like atmosphere. Yet, there is a measure of nervousness. No one really knows what to expect, officials included. “It is like being a test subject,” Tara described. “The focus is on everyone, the pressure to get things right from the start.” Poor performances, officials making a bad ruling, or show managers missing on the details will lead to second-guessing on the wisdom of restarting so soon. The professional tours, Rolex and Longines, are watching closely as they await their restart in September.

While everyone is required to wear a mask, observe physical distancing, and are subject to random temperature checks, David has said it is making for an interesting experience. It is very surreal. Except for the catering vendor, there are no other vendors. While hunter/jumper shows are known for their warm, friendly and inviting nature, the absence of friends, family and fans is rather noticeable. The priority is staying well, staying safe.

Showing

Show week can pass awfully fast. It starts on Wednesday. By Friday, it is already the mid-point of the schedule. Saturday night, it’s the premiere event everyone is waiting on, the Grand Prix. Riders can sense who is having a good meet, who isn’t. Though the field of competitors is not large, around 100, it is a competitive one.

riding time: Sophia with Candace (Happy Girl) on a day off (White Hollow Farm, Jun 18 2020)

How are the girls doing? They rarely talk about how they are doing. Instead, they talk about what they can do to improve their riding. The little things only they would notice.  What they will tell you is the fun they are having. “It’s okay to have fun,” Deborah has said. “What’s going on elsewhere, it stays there.”

My best man, he’s been shouldering a lot of weight. It is good for him to have time away from the everyday.