North Ranch: The First Year

A maze of boxes, small and large, filled every corner of the house. The furniture wrapped with heavy plastic. The first night, studio chairs and sleeping bags. A fast food dinner. With Christmas a few days away, Amanda had cut and decorated a 7-foot spruce as her housewarming gift.

before the boxes: empty view of the kitchen, living room and dining area

The next morning, the dining room table and its chairs were unwrapped. Our food, transferred from their dry ice chilled coolers and boxes into the refrigerator. Cookware, tableware and china unpacked. Bed frames and mattresses moved near to their respective rooms. More moving of boxes to roll out the Oriental area rugs.

boxes and furniture: the living room and front room maze

On Christmas day, much of the furniture remained wrapped. Each of our lives, and the rest of our household, in carefully labeled boxes. The girls and I quickly unwrapped some of the furniture and hastily arranged it near the fireplace. The kits were ever appreciative, able to take a proper nap after playing among the boxes.

Over the months, we have rearranged the furniture a few times to find that certain symmetry and intimacy that says “we are settled.” Similarly, we’ve also rearranged our bedrooms to find that more private, more intimate setting.

Whether it is moving a 50-pound bale of premium hay in the cold, or mucking a horse stall with biting flies on a hot day. Each day, every day, begins long before sunrise, ends long after sunset. We have loved every minute of the ranching life.

The horse riding, our daughters have loved the extra time. Their horses are their lives. They have become better riders for the experience.

As the song goes …

“These are the moments
I know all I need is this
I’ve found all I’ve waited for,
And I could not ask for more”

Notes

“I Could Not Ask For More” – music and lyrics by Diane Warren.

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Riding: The Nationals

Beginning their season on the world stage, they are ending their season on the world stage.

graphic courtesy of Blenheim EquiSports

They are the Nationals in Las Vegas. Part of the World Cup tour, the CSI4* rated show is the most important show of their season. The stage is larger. The expectations are greater. The anticipation higher. The field of riders they are competing with, in the World Cup qualifier, are among the best professionals in the world. Yet, “it is no different from any other show,” my daughters have said. “It is about riding, giving your best.”

“A rider must fully trust themselves and their horse,” Trish says of competing at this level. Having competed on the world stage herself, Trish speaks from experience. “The girls, they can compete with anyone. They have the intangibles.” With no guarantee of success, “they are unafraid,” Trish adds. “Count them among the best in the world.”

training day sunset: quiet moment between Tara and Cameron (RRC, Oct 27 2018)

They are ready. Their horses are ready.

Ride now, ride forever

Colorado In Fall: Coming Home

A warm hearth awaits, along with stories and tales to be told.

Dino and Pebbles were first, when they were baby kittens in 1989. Then, it was Egypt in 2005. On the equine front, Cara and Magician came in 2003. There’s something about October, something about the fall season, when it is time to come home.

Soon, another October addition will come.

Tara riding then two-year old Shelby (Double N Ranch, TX – May 2016)

Shelby is destined be Tara’s future show jumping horse. In the two years since Tara’s first ride with Shelby, the paint has undergone a growth spurt and now stands at 17.3 hands tall. At four years old, Nicole says he’s going to be a talented one. Shelby is jumping at the one meter level. Nicole believes his time has arrived to learn and develop with a talented rider. For Tara, Shelby reminds her so much of Jasper.

With Shelby, Tara notes, “Second chances rarely come. We’re going to make a good run at being the best.”

Sonrisa de Santa Fe

If you’ve visited Andalusia, festivals and ferías are the norm during the summer months. The sonrisa weeks are many. Generally, the ferías are connected to celebrating patron saints while the festivals are more connected to celebrating the regional culture like dance and music. On most evenings, it is not uncommon to find a sevillanas parade. In Seville, the annual exhibition featuring the Andalusian PRE draws many horse aficionados. The stallions and mares, very striking. The foals, off-the-scale cuteness.

A few of the traditions carried over to the New World. The festivals and ferías were fewer but incorporating traditions from the native cultures – Native American Indian, Aztec, Mayan and Incan. Horses made an impression in the American Southwest, particularly in the northward migration of Spanish missions into California, New Mexico and Texas. Equine bloodlines, from PRE thoroughbreds to quarterhorse to pack, were highly valued.

The revival of equestrian sports in New Mexico has included adding some of the festive sonrisa traditions. It may not be Seville, but the influence and atmosphere is undeniable.

equestrian review: Simeon Krestrel, Sonrisa de Santa Fe (Jul 2018)

When EquiCenter de Santa Fe closed their doors in 2009, it seemed equine sports in Santa Fe, and New Mexico, was finished forever. The fallout from the 2007-08 economic downturn was devastating. Riders were leaving the sport in droves, often selling their horses at “best offer” rates. So few competed in 2008, many sponsors left for other venues. Those riders who chose to compete opted to ride in Colorado where the equestrian scene had more stability.

Guy McElvain and his business partner, Brian Gonzales, entered a bid to buy the bankrupt equestrian center. Brian’s wife, Phyllis, had the more difficult task of rebuilding the thin equestrian ranks in New Mexico, and attracting riders from elsewhere to give the Grand Prix de Santa Fe another chance. Sponsors were initially, and rightfully, reticent. To change minds, they had to bring perspective, knowledge and expertise to the table. Guy, a respected adult-amateur rider, businessman and horse rancher. Phyllis, an experienced horse show planner and organizer. Brian, respected businessman and avid horseman. Also, their deep community and familial ties in Santa Fe aided in attracting investors and sponsorships.

After six years of planning and work, August 2015 signaled their new beginning with two shows, Sonrisa Week and the Grand Prix de Santa Fe, at the renamed equicenter, HIPICO Santa Fe. The two, smaller A-rated shows did well enough to expand the two shows into a four-show summer series in July and August 2016. Though overlapping with the Summer In The Rockies series in the Denver area, there are differences. The Summer In The Rockies series feature the large AA-rated shows, with the ability to attract riders, including top amateurs and professionals, from across the nation. The Santa Fe series with smaller A-rated shows, similarly aims to attract top amateurs, and possibly a few professionals. The difference maker, the uniquely Santa Fe atmosphere against a majestic southwest backdrop.

Invited since 2015, my daughters have struggled fitting the Santa Fe shows into their show schedule. A choice had to be made: compete with some of the best talent on the AA-circuit in Iowa or compete in a series in the process of regaining their footing in the equestrian world. The choice was easy, Iowa. Phyllis understood emerging talent riders need to compete with increasingly better talent to move to the next level.

With an already tight calendar, my girls committed to riding a private charity invitational over the Labor Day Weekend. In making the commitment, they also added Sonrisa Week to their show schedule, and tightening their calendar further.

USHJA Hunter Derby: Marianne, fellow RRC member, on the course (Sonrisa Week, Jul 2018)

warm-up session: Tara and Candace before the USHJA hunter derby (Sonrisa Week, Jul 2018)

During the mixer on opening night, Phyllis acknowledged several top amateurs riding Sonrisa Week – including a few she had been wooing for 2-3 years. After introducing the new faces that arrived during the day, Phyllis invited them to say a few words, if they had any. Elizabeth raised her hand. “We had wanted to come here for awhile, and we finally made it,” she began. “Someone said this could be the beginning of a tremendous legacy.” Pausing for the brief applause, Elizabeth finished, “I think that’s what you said, Brian.” He nodded yes to much laughter in the tent. “May everyone ride their best and ride well.”

The girls rode extremely well, continuing their incredible run this season.

NOTE: If you haven’t experienced an A-rated hunter/jumper show, please watch the video found here.

 

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)

 

Riding: Grand Prix of Texas

Over the past four years, their riding season would begin in Texas. It made sense to begin here. Quality riders, from emerging talent to top amateurs to professionals. The shows are very competitive. The hospitality always inviting. The setting helped my daughters to develop in a highly competitive sport, and hone their skills and professionalism.

Tara and Cameron in 1.35 m GP Qualifier (Tyler, TX – May 2014)

When the four-show series concluded last year, the show managers were hinting of a change. It would be more than a refresh of the schedule and the adding of more sponsors. They wanted to make the shows more exciting and more entertaining. There were whispers of competing head-to-head with the more prestigious shows found in the Midwest, SoCal, Virginia and Kentucky. It would involve attracting top-level riders and expanding the audience base. Additionally, they would be competing head-to-head with the Texas rodeo season. A tall order by any measure.

With the new associations and commitments firmed, the new show series was announced. The Grand Prix of Texas consists of three Grand Prix events. The three-event, total-point series would begin in Tyler (Week One), move to Fort Worth (Week Two), then end in Dallas on Memorial Day. While riding three Grand Prix events in nine days sound daunting, in addition to other events, it isn’t in practice. It is a matter of knowing your horse, and a matter of the rider being prepared for the next event.

graphic courtesy of Southbound Shows®

Not beginning their season here, it has a different feel for my daughters. This series, though, comes at the right time for them. It is about stepping outside their comfort zone as it is about making adjustments.

The new championship, the quest begins on Saturday.

Tara and Cameron: 1.45/1.50 m Grand Prix warm-up (Tyler, TX – May 2017)

New Trails

They have prepared themselves for this moment. They have studied much. They have studied hard. They have been inspired. They have inspired.

Our daughters have been accepted into two medical school programs, the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Long School of Medicine at UT Health in San Antonio. Both programs are excellent, and have produced outstanding MDs. One of those outstanding MDs is Laurie, Tara’s mom, who studied at UT – San Antonio. Andrea graduated from the University of Colorado nursing program at the BS and MS level. The inspiration for our girls is understandable.

University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Anschutz Medical Campus (Aurora, CO)

University of Texas Health Sciences Center (San Antonio, TX)

Choosing to pursue a career in medicine, or in the hard sciences, is not surprising. Deborah and Elizabeth, mom in nursing, dad in chemistry; Tara, her mom a trauma surgeon. Their essays on “what I want to be” in the 6th and 7th grades suggested a percolating interest. Becoming a professional equestrian, not so much. When their riding began to click, and making the jump from above-average novices to dominating juniors, the prospect of riding professionally became a little brighter.

We have encouraged our girls to follow their hearts in following their dreams. Moreover, we told them do not wait for a role model or a trailblazer to emerge – otherwise you’ll be waiting forever. “It is not much different from riding,” Mark and Trish have said. “If you want to be in any field, you must learn and study as much as you can, then always work to give your best.” Both Mark and Trish have always placed a premium on education for their young riders, and to encourage them to think beyond equine sports. “It’s okay to have dreams other than horses and to pursue those dreams.

entering the quad, University of Colorado School of Medicine

the quad and medical classroom buildings, seen from a lounge area in another medical classroom building
University of Colorado School of Medicine

In their individual interviews with both programs, our daughters were asked, “Why medicine? Why don’t you stay with riding?” Though the question came across as dismissive, our girls handled it with their usual grace. “Medicine and riding are much alike,” they proffered. “There are no guarantees. In riding, you always give your very best effort, every time, in the show ring. In medicine, a doctor must always give their very best with each individual patient. Anything less, you don’t belong in either field.

The pursuit of medical careers does not imply our daughters are finished with their riding, or taking a hiatus from the sport. They still plan to compete, but on a less expansive basis. It made choosing which school to attend fairly easy, the University of Colorado School of Medicine. They’ll be close to home and they’ll be close to their horses.

Deborah, Elizabeth and Tara are clearly excited about the journey they will soon embark on. They understand there will be long days ahead, yet they have not been wary of hard work. We could not be more proud and excited for them. Mark and Trish have no doubts they will succeed. “It is in their blood.

Ride now, ride forever

 

Photo credit: The photos used in this post are courtesy of the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Long School of Medicine, University of Texas Health Sciences Center – San Antonio.