Sunday Morning Coming Down

It was absolutely perfect evening. Very relaxed and comfortable. Only in Texas, of course. The evening began with a Texas BBQ dinner, a thank you from the show managers to the riders, their families and support crews. The centerpiece of the evening was the karaoke contest, a contest among the riders willing to step into a different kind of spotlight.

Instead of using the Grand Prix ring for the night’s festivities, Hunter Ring #1 was chosen. The ring had undergone a major upgrade during the off-season with the installation of new stadium lighting and becoming more intimate in setting. Throughout the day, practically every rider walking past stopped to watch its transformation. The festival lights, tables, catering stations, and stage. It seemed the setting would be as intimate as the year before, may be more.

A Night In Tuscany

The hunter ring was styled into a piazza, with tables and chairs arranged in a semi-circular pattern around a low-rise stage. Above the stage, a lighting truss. The stage background, tiered greenery. The setting had a closeness about it.

A sunset that stole your breath away began the perfect evening. With each passing second, the fiery color of the sky slipped away.

Soon, the deep blues and deep purples of dusk colored the sky, with a touch of dark red, here and there. “The Romanza colors,” noted Tara, “is all in Texas, tonight.” Softly lit with festival lighting, the piazza setting slowly revealed its intimacy.

Simplicity was its beauty. The softness of lilac was it scent. Texas wildflowers throughout. Formal place settings for an informal BBQ dinner. A bit fancy, but the evening was all about hospitality and thanks for another successful run of the four week series.

The Song

The high point of the evening was the karaoke contest. Among the 15 entrants, there was one without equal. Her performances have been dominant and flawless. Seeking her fourth consecutive title, she was seen as the prohibitive favorite. She’s been teased, good-naturedly, about being the “ringer” in the contest. While the contest is pure fun, the natural competitiveness of the riders emerges.

The theme for the contest was “1970s Hot 100“. To music aficionados, it was a golden decade of hits on all the charts. The era’s music is a favorite of Elizabeth’s, and has her favorite artist of all-time, Crystal Gayle.  Listen to all of her devices, there is no Adele, no Taylor Swift, no Katy Perry, no Brittany, no Lorde, among others.

The Crystal Gayle songbook is firmly rooted in Country, but has enjoyed significant crossover appeal. Elizabeth chose “I Cried The Blue Right Out of My Eyes”, one of Crystal Gayle’s earliest hits. The song has pedigree, written by Loretta Lynn, older sister to Crystal.

With the stadium lights on, it was time to compete. Elizabeth drew the #15 slot, the most-coveted starting position. Singing last, she knew what kind of performance would be needed. Deborah and Tara were more nervous than Elizabeth. Their advice, though, “go out and win this thing.”

Elizabeth sent chills. Mom loved it, wiping more tears from her eyes.

She did, fourth time. And, won the Grand Prix event the next day, third consecutive year.

Notes

Written by Loretta Lynn, “I Cried The Blue Right Out of My Eyes”, 21-year-old Crystal Gayle (1972) singing her first hit, here. It reached No. 23 on the Billboard Country singles chart in 1970. Performed 25 years later (1997), with a more experienced voice, Crystal singing it here. She has noted, when tweaked on a studio sound mixer, the song has a MOR flavor. Crystal Gayle’s breakthrough hit was the jazz-flavored “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” in 1977. A biography can be found here.

Crystal is also known for her floor length hair. Elizabeth’s hair length, at its longest, reaches to her lower back, only trimming it back during riding season.

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Remembering

By Lauren Westin, MD

I’ll walk with You wherever You go
Through tears and joy, I’ll trust in You
And I will live in all of Your ways
And Your promises forever

Jesus I believe in You
Jesus I belong to You

 

A sense of quiet.

It doesn’t happen too often in our home. Taking a break from the homework, I gazed out the window. In the distance, a pair of deer grazing at the edge of the woods under an overcast sky. “She would have loved it,” I thought.

I understood the moment. Andrea came into the room. She noticed my tears. “Are you okay?” she asked.

I nodded yes. “And, there they go,” pointing to the deer. I told Andrea how much her song at Mass meant. Her voice, so lovely, so tender. “Anytime,” she replied. “Time for a Deborah hug.” I couldn’t help but to smile.

We miss you, mom.

Laurie
xoxo

Note

The stanza is from the song, “With All I Am”, composed by Reuben Morgan. It was sung by Darlene Zschech with Hillsong Australia in 2004, which can be viewed here.

About the author

Lauren Westin is a practicing trauma surgeon  with University of Colorado Health, and an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Her certifications include trauma surgery, trauma medicine, and microsurgery.

Riding: Season Finale

“It is no longer about potential. It is about being kinetic.”

A national horse show has a way of drawing the best out of a rider. The stakes are well understood. A win can catapult a rider to greater heights. An unexpected finish can lead to new opportunities. Or, it can quash the loftiest of dreams.

Riding in their fourth, consecutive appearance at the Las Vegas Nationals, my daughters have caught the eye of a few professional riders along the way. They’ve watched them at work, and have come away impressed. Their horsemanship, work ethic, attention to detail, their intangibles. Most have been impressed with their ability to manage the anticipation and expectations of a national show, and the bright lights of an FEI World Cup tour event.

Compliments aside, it is about riding the ride. “It is giving their absolute best in the show ring,” says Trish. “They trust themselves. They trust their horses. They have a maturity that you rarely, if ever, find in a rider of their age. That is why they’re very, very good.”

With fewer wild card slots available, the World Cup Grand Prix field was expected to be smaller in size from the year before. A rider’s best chance to assure themselves a slot was a clean ride in the qualifier, the Welcome Speed Classic, held two nights earlier. No rails down, no time faults. Once the qualifier and wild card slots were filled, a field of 29 riders was set. Only Elizabeth qualified for the event; Deborah and Tara both failed to qualify with one rail down in their runs. Yet, these are the moments they have often practiced. Only one moving ahead to ride the headline event, the other two supporting in a second’s role.

Deborah and Tara walked the course build with Elizabeth, offering their insights on the Oscar Soberón designed course. Like his other courses – fair, challenging, exciting. After the walkthrough, Elizabeth worked through her notes and choosing her sightlines and riding line.

An hour before the event, it’s the quiet time for Elizabeth and Lilith. The routine is deliberate and methodical. When the first group of riders are called, Elizabeth and Lilith are ready. A final check of the rigging, they begin the walk from the stables to Priefert Arena, next door to the main arena, for warm-ups.

The pressure and anxiety of the moment wasn’t any greater than Elizabeth normally experiences. Thoughts of the ride and the course are far from her mind. Instead, the focus is keeping Lilith’s warm-up steady. When it’s time to move into the holding area, Lilith is ready, ready.

From the holding area, the riders were able to gain a sense of the arena. The atmosphere, the anticipation, was less electric than the year before. Perhaps, it was the arena being only three-quarters full. Or, the audience more subdued. A less excited atmosphere generally keeps a horse from becoming overexcited. A highly charged setting, like the year before, several horses, including Lilith, were overexcited.

tunnel walk: from the stables to Priefert Arena

warm-up: Priefert Arena, ring two (left)

While she prefers a later start position, Elizabeth drew ninth in the order. Riding later in the order gives a better sense of the course in terms of difficulty and footing. Riding early in the draw, there is little sense of the course. The ride becomes trusting yourself.

With Elizabeth and three other amateurs part of the field of 29 riders, the World Cup Grand Prix began. Per FEI rule, the amateurs would not be listed in the official results unless it is a top ten finish. Richard Spooner (USA) was the crowd favorite with Chatinus, a 10-year-old Hanoverian he acquired over the summer. He had top five finishes in the World Cup qualifiers at Sacramento and Del Mar.

The challenge of the Soberón course revealed itself quickly. The first eight riders had put down rails, at least one. Riding ninth, 1028 Elizabeth Ksenia Ramos/Lilith (USA), would she be the first to ride clear? Elizabeth was riding the course well, her split times good. They cleared the troublesome 1.60 m fence with ease. The three 1.50 m fences down the backstretch, clear. On the second to last fence, a slight brush on the top rail of the 1.50 m fence. Rail down. Time, a 1.5 second lead on the field. With 20 riders yet to come, an unknown rider with a penchant for detail is the leader for the moment.

The ride done, Elizabeth knew she missed her chance. It seemed, though, the event may not go to a jump-off. Rider after rider were pulling rails. Elizabeth’s lead was steadily being chipped away, then her time passed. The first clear ride finally came 12 riders later. Crowd favorite, Richard Spooner, rode clear at 24. Karrie Ruffer (USA), an amateur making her second World Cup start, also made the jump-off. Spooner won the jump-off by nearly three seconds over Alison Robitaille (USA), with Ruffer retiring after a pulled rail. She finished third, and a place in the official results. In the unofficial results, Elizabeth finished 11th, 0.18 seconds short of tenth place.

For some, Las Vegas was their season finale. After the holiday break, many would begin assembling their show schedule for 2018. A few were planning a trip to the Winter Equestrian Festival in Palm Beach, FL to watch the best ride. A pair of riders the girls know rather well have decided to call it a career in riding, but continue in the horse world.

And, a handful, including my girls, are riding at the World Cup tour event in Guadalajara, this week, to begin their 2018 calendar.

Easy Like Sunday

… or should it be “Escape From New York”?

My daughters had some equestrian business in upstate NY last week. When the weather upstate became decidedly blizzardy, the meeting was moved to Manhattan. Granted there would be no riding or making new horse friends, but when you have riders in the same room, the talk of horses can be unending. Sitting around a hotel suite, in riding attire, lends itself very well to the horse talk.

homeward bound: after takeoff from JFK, first to Atlanta then home to Colorado
photo credit: Deborah  camera: BB Classic

Three days after the storm, JFK was still a mess. Rebooked for today, their flight left this afternoon nearly 2½ hours behind schedule. Instead of a four-hour layover in Atlanta, it’ll be a two-hour layover. Fortunately, the possibility of icing in Atlanta and North Georgia will develop very late tonight, after the girls are back home.

Their host, she was still waiting for her flight to Florida. Her horses will follow in a few days.

Christmas Eve

A maze of boxes and furniture is all about the house. The kitties love the arrangement. It’s a playground. In place, their food and water stations, and litter boxes, of course. And, Andrea’s piano. The barn set-up is almost finished. There are certain priorities after all.

boxes and furniture: the living room maze

Tara’s temporary nightstand: a dual-purpose wooden crate

After a late breakfast, it was a day of moving around of boxes and furniture. Though most of our dinnerware, tableware and cookware remains boxed, enough is out for everyday use. The refrigerator is full, and we can make meals.

breakfast time: French toast

breakfast of champions: French toast drenched with syrup and a slab of butter

After dinner, it will be a crackling fire in the hearth. A few songs around the piano. A few, unexpected presents found under the tree.

later: preparing the Christmas Day checklist

To all our friends, may you have a merry and blessed Christmas!

North Ranch: Beginning Anew

It had been in the planning for nearly two years. Our appointment books were filled with meeting dates and times, post-it notes and flagged pages. Certain documents needed to be gathered. Applications were submitted, approvals waited upon. Before a final contract was entered, it was important to reach an agreement on a range of matters.

Once we signed the contract, there were no second thoughts. It is about looking ahead, looking at possibilities. The risks are few, but manageable. While our daughters were developing strong interests in pursuing careers in medicine, it did not change the course or purpose of our plan. Moreover, it would afford them greater options.

After she signed, Amanda invited us into her office. It was a special occasion for her too, taking out the beer she had bought for the moment. “E-Ram, are you allowed?” Elizabeth looked at mom; Andrea nodded yes. “On behalf of the JN Ranch,” Amanda began, “we welcome you. North Ranch is in no finer hands than yours.” A few minutes later, her parents, Tom and Judy, stopped in to offer their congratulations. “You’ll love it here. It’s Colorado from another time.”

the cattle guard view: North Ranch (Jul 2015)

A working ranch, North Ranch will serve as home to Team KRW, our daughters’ equestrian activity. Their primary aim is to develop horses for show jumping. Knowing not every horse is suited for equine sports, another role will be found for them. The secondary aim is to provide support for the working horses of JN Ranch.

Our preparatory work began in earnest, earlier this year. Among the first projects was replacing an older section of common fence with new wire and stakes. Also, a new barn and attendant septic system was constructed. With 15 months allocated for construction and finishing out the ranch complex, the work was largely completed by mid-November, four months ahead of schedule.

finish work: the loft level, new barn (Jun 2017)

inside the barn: new stalls on the floor (Jul 2017)

Rather than waiting until spring to move into North Ranch, we slowly began the process two and a half weeks ago. Several boxes here, several boxes there. The serious moving began over the weekend. Laurie and Andrea wondered aloud if we had enough furniture to fill our new 3,200 square foot house. We do have some in storage, plus Andrea’s baby grand in piano storage.

The North Ranch property is richly steeped in family history. It is the special place where it all began for the JN Ranch in 1883. It is our privilege to begin anew here also.

Riding: The Weekend

A few days of Indian Summer in late November and early December. A little trail riding. A brown-bag lunch in a forest clearing. They are days to be long remembered.

My daughters have begun their short break from riding. For the moment, they are casual, everyday riders. Their horses are regular horses. With such nice weather, they invited their riding friend, Stacy, and her younger sister, Dani, for the weekend.

Dani (light blue) and Stacy (dark blue) with Chessman and Magician
photo credit: Elizabeth

It was a weekend with plenty of riding, plenty of exploring, and plenty of fun. The sunny, warm weather likely played a role, but probably they would have had fun if the weather kept them inside the barn.

Side Note

While still sunny, our temperatures have decidedly become more “December-like”, with a cold wind behind it. Snow chances, not very good.