Gaining Knowledge

While the layoff from competition has been lengthy, the practice sessions for nationals have continued on a pace my daughters used during their riding season. The sessions have been exacting and thorough as they are crisp and precise. They’ve practiced under the watchful eyes of their instructors, Mark and Trish, taking in their advice and knowledge.

after a workout with Lilith, Elizabeth listens to the advice from Mark’s dad, Pete

When Mark’s dad, Pete, spent two weeks here, earlier this fall, he closely watched the girls practice. A cowboy and wrangler, Pete’s experience and knowledge of horses is considerable. He oversaw the remuda on a working cattle ranch in Texas, where he worked his entire life. Before lending advice, Pete asked both Mark and Trish if he could.

Though some of Pete’s advice and knowledge was what they had already learned, or gained through experience, there were some bits and pieces they were learning for the first time. My girls listened intently to every word.



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 more rein

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)

Ride The Summer

The riders and their horses are ready. The new season has arrived.


The horses have been vaccinated and certified for competition. The saddles and tack are ready. The always fashionable black is the color of choice. The additional equipment and supplies needed to support four horses away from home are ready also.

My girls are ready. The weeks of practice have made them eager for the competition to begin. Of course, there is some natural anxiety on their part. It is always the case at the beginning of a new season. Yet, they are brimming with confidence in themselves and their horses.

While this summer promises to be rather busy, it is one full of hope.

Lilith: The Heart of A Champion

[The first part of a special series, “Making of A Champion”, contributed by my equestrian daughters. This post is by my daughter, Elizabeth.]

I am a hunter/jumper equestrian. It is my sport. It is my passion. And, it may be my profession.

There is much, much more to equine sports than most would imagine. It begins and ends with loving and understanding horses. It is knowing what and how they think. What they can and cannot do. Whatever they do together, a horse and their rider must have a bond, that special connection they can rely upon.

We came across Lilith four years ago at a horse auction. She was a four year old mare. Though she was born to be a racing thoroughbred, her owners quickly learned Lilith was not meant for the racetrack. She would have good workout and practice sessions, but come race day, Lilith, invariably, would finish close to last. Entered into a stakes race, Lilith’s performance was considered to be very disappointing. The only interest she drew was from a dressage trainer. Lilith’s shiny black coat was her primary attraction. In dressage training for nearly six months, she wasn’t learning well. So poorly went her training, it didn’t take long for Lilith to develop a reputation as difficult to manage, and one with a volatile temperament. Accordingly, she was shopped around at six auctions in three months time.

The trip to the auction was arranged by our riding coach, Mark. It was one of many lessons he wanted Deborah and me to learn about horses. “The more you know about horses, the more it will improve your skill set.” Growing up the son of a working hand on a horse ranch, Mark knows a lot about horses. He can look at a horse and have an instant recognition of what it can and cannot do. We eventually came to the portion of the yard where Lilith was standing with two other horses. While looking at Lilith’s fact sheet, Mark noticed how easily people gave up on her. He also spied the attention Deborah and I were paying to Lilith. So much so, the two horses with Lilith came for their share of loving. But, it was Lilith who captured my eye and captured my heart.

Lilith on an off day from competition in Iowa (Aug 2014)

My parents had made it clear attending the auction was a learning session, and their checkbooks would remain closed. Also, Deborah and I were beginning to have success in the show ring. Would adding another horse dilute the progress we were showing? Deborah knew Lilith had become my horse in that moment, and told me so. I knew too. It didn’t take long for me to start pestering my dad first, then my mom about Lilith. The “please, please, please” began. I promised to contribute my meager winnings to buy Lilith. Though they said no, mom and dad eventually huddled up with Mark. They were obviously discussing if Lilith could be developed into a hunter/jumper. Deborah tried eavesdropping on their conversation, but mom caught on and told her to stay with me.

The starting bid for Lilith was pegged to begin at $7500, $8500 for pre-auction sale. Both prices were considered to be much too high, especially for a horse deemed “unmanageable”. Mom and dad offered her owner $5200 as our one and only offer. With the other horses not selling well at auction, her owner became the former owner. And, my dad, technically, became Lilith’s new owner. Condition: no new saddle for Christmas. That was fair enough. I gave plenty of kisses to mom and dad. And, Deborah and I kissed Lilith, whispering sweet words into her ears.

Upon taking her to the Rustler practice facility, Mark saw what made Lilith “unmanageable”. A few whip marks. Though noted on her vet report, we could have voided the sale for “failing to disclose” on her bill of sale. We had decided if she didn’t take to the training, we were going to keep her. Mark had a sense Lilith was a good horse. She only needed stability, and a commitment of a reliable owner.

Elizabeth adjusting Lilith’s reins and bit during a training session (Jun 2013)

Once Trish and Mark began to work with her, they found Lilith to be a natural jumper. There was no awkwardness in clearing low and medium height fences. That same ease of clearing fences continued as she moved to higher fence heights. And, that problem with speed – Lilith had plenty of it. It was only waiting to be discovered. After six months in training, Lilith was ready to practice regularly with Mr. Ed and Comet.

Lilith has developed into a very competitive hunter/jumper. She is a combination of grace, speed and strength in the show ring. She is far from being a “difficult to manage” horse. Her temperament, very sweet. Focusing her attention, at times, can be difficult. But, once she begins a practice session, or in the show ring, her attention is undivided.

All she needed was someone to believe in her.


About the author

Elizabeth Ksenia Ramos is a sophomore attending the University of Colorado. Her degree studies is concentrated in the field of chemistry, ACS certified Bachelor of Science program. She graduated with honors from Machebeuf Catholic High School in Denver in 2013.

She is the most decorated equestrian in Rustler Riding Club history, winning Rider of the Year, Horse of the Year and Regulator of the Year awards on multiple occasions. Additionally, she has won multiple blue ribbons, and other placement ribbons, with Mr. Ed and Lilith.

Easy Like Sunday

A relaxed, easy morning ride.

Elizabeth onboard Lilith (San Juan Capistrano, Jun 2014)


With many smiles and much laughter, last evening, Team Rustler had its annual end-of-season BBQ. The riders shared their tales of the just-concluded season. After dinner, the club presented its awards. Many of the riders had, including Deborah and Tara, believed Elizabeth would repeat her sweep of the top three awards. Not this year. While the extra recognition and winning ribbons are nice, riding and the company of horses is the best award in their estimation. Most unexpectedly, Elizabeth’s palomino, Ed, won the club’s Horse of The Year award. Quietly, they had a solid season.

Preparing To Travel

Like their riders, the horses had their exams also. Their vaccination records were reviewed. Their paperwork, ready and in order. Their supplies are ready. It’s all in advance of their first horse show of the season.

While they are well accustomed to traveling in their trailer, the horses have been receiving short rides this week. They are ready.


Cameron, with her mane nicely braided, is ready to travel. Lilith, Comet and Mr. Ed will be traveling with her.