Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Boot Saga Concludes - La Mundials are in!

My custom boot saga has been documented throughout this blog, most notably here and here.  I ordered a pair of custom Dehner boots back in 2014 prior to moving away from Omaha.  It was my "Happy moving back to the east coast!" present to myself.  They showed up, and didn't fit right.  Features were missing.  After a lot of back/forth with myself over them, partially breaking them in and deciding they weren't what I wanted...I decided this spring that I wanted to move in a different direction.

And by move, I mean do a full 180 and leap off a cliff.

I was at World Cup in Omaha and passed by the La Mundial Boots booth several times.  After chatting with the rep a couple of times, I found myself in the chair getting my measurements taken.   This was a complete impulse thing and looking back on it, totally crazy.  Because when I got home and looked at the reviews of La Mundial, I probably never would have done it.  Seriously...Google them.

So, as I waited for the custom boots to come in, I was wondering if I should seriously regret this decision.  After all, if a reputable boot company couldn't get my stuff right, I guess I didn't have much faith in a company that seems to range from "OMG SO BEAUTIFUL!!1!" to literally probably the worst.  I pretty much sat here scolding myself for ever doing anything custom.  And when the boots didn't show up when they originally estimated, I got extra suspicious. 

I dug through my receipts and realized HOLY SHIT I CANNOT FIND MY BOOT RECEIPTS.  Yeah.  That happened.  Couldn't find it on email either.  Fuck fuck fuck.  So I called the La Mundial customer service phone number, and am happy to report that not only did a human being pick up, but she said they'd ship in a couple of days.  Okay.  I relaxed some.  Then much to my surprise, they showed up several days ahead of that new arrival date.  Let the puckering begin...

They. Are. Beautiful.  Legit beautiful.  And, most importantly, they fit perfectly!

The 180-degree turn off a cliff I was describing above was my departure from a traditional boot, and a full on embrace of today's more tailored, fashion-style boots.  These were my "fun" boots.  I wanted something to go along with our navy blue/grey/white color scheme we have going.  Without going full-on insane, I opted for navy blue trim with grey piping.  When I opened the box, I was so glad to see that the colors are both visible and lovely, but are conservative enough to not scream for attention.  It's a more subtle approach and I like that!

There's always that inner screaming and panic that first time you try on custom boots, but I was so relieved when they zipped right up with no issues.  They are the appropriate amount of tight (I'll stretch them slightly as I break them in), the height is perfect, and all the details are just right.  The quality looks to be top notch, and thus far just walking around the house, they are quite comfortable.

So...I guess time will tell how well these hold up.  Most of the negative reviews I found were regarding the ordering process/waiting/orders not being right....and we're already past all that with boots that more or less arrived on time, responsive customer service, and an impeccable product.  These are show boots that will probably only come out when my jacket goes on, so I am hoping they should last a while.  I also bought the extra (outer) panel on the inside the boot which can be easily replaced if the inside of the boot leg wears from saddle time. 

I give La Mundial a huge thumbs up for their product (thus far).  As for Dehner...the company and I came to a good agreement, the details of which I will keep private.  I no longer have the boots.  I was not pleased with the product, but I was happy with the service that I received.  I would still recommend Dehner to those looking for a very traditional, old school type boot.    But like with any custom boot company...buyer beware.  This is just a unique situation where one highly regarded company didn't work out, and one company with a checkered rep came through.  I'm feeling like I've dodged a bullet, but happy to have done so, because I'm finally happy with my boots.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Joe Fargis Part Deux

First off, let's talk about the fact that Soon now jumps liverpools with minimal discussion prior to agreeing to flinging his body from one side of it to the other via the top of the fence.


Had a lesson with Awesome Local Trainer on Monday morning, and after only stopping at it once (liverpool was fully opened, no babying it that day), Soon took the hint and jumped it the rest of the morning no issue.  It was a good day.  It was hot and miserable, and I was borderline useless all morning, but he was good.  We had some cross canter issues during the warm up that frustrated me and I needed to handle better. 

The next day, I had the vet out to look at Soon's back/SI joint because of the cross cantering, and also to check his eyes (because let's be real, Homeboy missed BIG TIME the previous week by removing my shoulder with his incisors). 

Bubba will need injections in the lower hock joint as both hocks were pretty sore, which is likely causing the back to be sore and all of it is likely contributing to the cross cantering.  We'll start with some Depo in the lower joints, leaving the acid and potential upper joint injections for later if needed.  Both the vet and I like to start simple and use the minimal treatment necessary - and I hate screwing around with injections.

I'm also going to do a four-round course of Pentosan as well as starting him on a Cosequin powder.  Injections will be next week; I'm hoping to line up a chiropractor and massage therapist to get him done on his down time.  That way, when he starts back after a short break, he will hopefully be feeling better all over.  BTW, his eyes seemed fine, at least with the non-scientific farm call version of the eye exam.

In the meantime, we had another lesson with Joe Fargis scheduled for today.  Soonie got a gram of Bute this morning just in case, and we hauled out with the barn team to Upperville.  Soon was fantastic - after a short hack around the farm, we rode in the indoor again due to the rain, he was super relaxed and settled well into the work immediately. 

Joe was extremely complimentary the whole lesson.  He said multiple times how well we had come along since the first lesson, that we had really done our homework.  He was impressed with Soon and how he looked, he was happy that my hands were soft and declared that problem "solved" (haha!).  Now my homework is to keep my foot to the inside of the stirrup and turn my toe out more, which Joe believes provides a more stable, consistent foundation/footing for the rider's balance.  I have to say - I don't disagree with him.  When a stirrup would slip to the outside of my foot mid-course, I could feel a huge change, and noticed that having the foot on the outside of the stirrup reduces the contact and feels less secure.  But having ridden like that since I was a little kid (and something I will have to change again for George Morris, as he wants feet to the outside of the stirrup), this will take some adjusting too. 

There wasn't a lot new or groundbreaking in this lesson (which is a good thing, I suppose, I like to think that means we're on a good track).  Joe did crank the two square oxers up to about 3'6"-1.15m ish.  Which isn't by any means huge, but not having jumped more substantial fences lately, it at least made me sit up and notice.  I tried not to ride it any differently - maintain a soft hand, giving with the hand on the approach and closing the leg and allowing Soon to find the base himself.  He jumped well and handled the rollback turns off the big oxers like a champ.  He did have a rail or two, so Joe had us repeat just one oxer off the long approach a few times to solidify his jump. 

I don't know - this horse over the top of a reasonably sized fence (one that at least requires some decent riding to) feels amazing.  I can't wait to keep exploring his potential and seeing where it takes us.  Makes me want to be a better rider.  A better horseman.  A better student.  This horse could absolutely do the low Jr/AO jumpers...maybe or maybe not competitive, depending on how well this hunter princess learn to ride jumpers!  But he can do it.  I used to joke about it.  No more joking.  If we never jump again that's fine - he's done enough already.  But for now I'm happy to ride this ride, keep pushing and training with the best, keep learning, keep doing the homework...and see where it takes us.  These are exciting times.

I needed this day.  In a big way.  Especially today.  This horse just keeps giving and I am thankful for each opportunity I have with him.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Stephen Bradley Photos

Got some beautiful photos from our last lesson with Stephen Bradley, aka the Great Liverpool Debate.

Still not tired yet

893 jumps over the liverpool later...very tired.

Now everyone is tired.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Stephen Bradley and Linda Zang Lessons

Last week Soonie and I went to our awesome trainer's place and had our second lesson with Stephen Bradley.  I love working with Stephen, his input is so on point, clear, and concise.  He's also perfectly pleasant and patient, as we learned this time out.  Soon had a lot of difficulty with the Liverpool - we had jumped it before, but it wasn't unfolded. 

Impressed with the folded Liverpool back in April
Yeah...Stephen started unfolding the Liverpool and having us trot over it, and Soon promptly checked his brain at the door and came unglued. 

Actual footage of Soon approaching the Liverpool

There was some minor drama with some quick, borderline dirty stops.  Soon actually got me off when he stopped dirty (after he had already jumped it!!), but I just jumped off and landed on my feet, no big deal.  At one point I was having to canter down to it one-handed, driving him forward, with my free hand ready to hit him with the bat at the slightest twitch.  Stephen was incredibly patient and took his time. We got Soonie over it each direction, at different heights, and he got to the point where he rode pretty normally to it.  We did broken lines to/from it and he didn't use that as an excuse to be silly.  The rest of the lesson was great - Bubba was jumping well, soft, and our new approach of soft hand and supporting leg to the jumps to assist with distances is still working beautifully.  I was disappointed to have such a meltdown over the Liverpool, but I'm glad Stephen was there.  He said "it was a discussion that needed to happen, and maybe from time to time you need to have that discussion with him, so that he knows to stay in front of your leg and just go."  Fair enough.

In other news..

This past Thursday we went to a nearby, beautiful private farm for our second lesson with dressage guru, Linda Zang.

Yep that's Linda Zang in the USDF Hall of Fame
Soonie was such a star.  We had ridden with Linda back in October, and it was extremely productive despite some tension.  This time Bubba was much more relaxed thanks to the short trip and very quiet atmosphere.  He was completely quiet and zero drama, and I was happy to see the seasoned veteran come out again.  He warmed up well and was getting to nice places much faster.  Linda was very complimentary, and we started focusing more on getting him to move through his shoulder more.  We warmed up with lots of changes of directions at the trot.  Then we did walking turns on the forehand to get him to step under with the inside hind and move the haunches some more.  We then did a canter transition out of the turn, and did canter leg yields off the wall. 

We got to some lovely places and he was soft, light, and felt much more through.  Linda was very complimentary, and once again I go home with some easy exercises to replicate what she taught me.  Once again, some of the greatest horsemen are great because they know how to keep things simple.  I will never fail to be amazed and how well horses and riders transform and improve with a session with Linda.  I can't wait to ride with her again!

We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat...

Adult Great White shark. Jumps and dressage.  Does 1.15m easily w/changes, schooling 2nd level, hacks out alone or in company. Jumps XC. Loads, trailers, clips like a dream. Athletic and talented.  Talks and does tricks for treats. "Cute." Shark cage not included. Will consider trade for bottle nosed dolphin of like ability.

This isn't cute.

Not cute.

 This happened this morning.  Came out to the barn very early because I needed to ride and then go to the local dressage show and braid a couple of horses.  I arrived and went out to grab Soon and his new turnout buddy, Z, from their field.  After they both walked up to me looking for carrots, I haltered them like I always do and we started walking toward the barn.  

Then I guess Soon decided THAT was a good time to remind Z who was in charge in the field (poor horse judgment), so he came across and ended up hitting me behind my left shoulder blade.  I think he might have panicked when he hit me instead of the other horse, because he clamped down (as scared horses sometimes do) and held on for what was probably only three or four seconds, but felt like forever.  He started to pull backward, but my shoulder was still in his teeth so that didn't feel great at all being dragged to the left.

He let go and immediately regretted his decision.  I was screaming at him as that was extremely painful.  I mean, there's being bitten and then there's "removing a pound of flesh off my bones" and it definitely fell in the latter category...I was in so much pain that I was at one point down on one knee holding on to two horses in the field.  But...after some more cursing at the top of my lungs, we dropped Z off in his stall, Soon and I had a Manners 101 refresher in the round pen, and then we had a pretty good refresher of the Linda Zang lesson.  

I'm just glad I didn't leave the barn angry with him.  Still had a good ride (of course he was very sorry and very perfect in the round pen as well), he was still sweet, and there's still a lot of love and appreciation for an otherwise good morning at the barn.  So, while I joked with friends that I had to murder him, or that I was selling my Land Shark, that's not the case.  He's not going anywhere.  But he has earned himself some new nicknames, AND he's lost his stall guard privileges.  He and Z won't be making faces at each other in the barn anymore.  

Won't lie...after I got home from the horse show, I was hoping there'd be some kind of mark.  I had bitched to my friends about it all morning, and I'd feel dumb if there was nothing showing for it.  But I did NOT expect the carnage above.  I ran out to my truck after it happened to check in the mirror to see if I was bleeding - it felt bad enough to break skin, but I didn't see anything showing through the shirt.  Most of the red is just blood blistering, there are a few bloody scratches in there, but I'm happy it wasn't worse because that would have meant an ER visit.  I don't screw with animal bites.

But it hurts like a bitch, so I'm chilling on the couch with some ice and ibuprofen and cider and writing blog posts.  Whee. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Upperville Photos

All photos by Equine Event Photos.

He's just reminding me he has hops if one day I ever find the balls to do 1.20m

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Upperville 2017 Recap!

 About a month ago, I had this crazy idea in my head to go to an AA rated horse show with a horse who had never shown off the property before.

And we just did it.

And he was perfect.  PERFECT.

"Who, me?"

Imma do the sappy thing here when I say I cannot thank this little horse and his enormous heart enough.  He went into the oldest and one of the most prestigious horse shows in the country, took it completely in stride, and put in two clear jumping rounds.  He was foot perfect all weekend.  And the fact that he was relaxed, happy, and seemed to be enjoying all the attention was all the reward I could ever ask for.

I went out to Upperville on Saturday and set up stalls, so that when we rolled into the show on Sunday afternoon, the horses could step right off the trailer and get settled.  We shipped out there with three Thoroughbreds total - Soon, plus a former hunter and a former eventer, who were both venturing into rated jumperland for the first time.  Soonie stepped off the truck and settled into his tent stall right away.  No fuss, no drama, absolutely zero shits given.  The other boys settled pretty quickly too.  We schooled on the flat in the warm up rings on Sunday afternoon, and then went out into the gorgeous hacking field immediately afterward to cool the horses out, and enjoy the unbeatable Virginia hunt country view.

Soon was a star the whole time.  A little tense the first time in the warm ups on Sunday, and in the show ring hacking on Monday morning, but by the time it came time to show, he was looking and acting like he'd shown at big rated shows all his life.

"Seriously this is old news already so stop it..."

We were lucky in that both days (Monday and Tuesday) we showed in the first class, and then were done for the day.  So both morning were busy, but productive: we got to the show grounds around 0630 (Kim had already fed, watered, and picked stalls), got on around 0700 and hacked in the show ring, then hopped over a couple of jumps in the warm up while it was still deserted.  We returned to show at 0900 and then were done for the day.  I'm glad we jumped earlier in the morning, versus waiting until just before the class.  It's nice to see that the warm up rings at rated shows are still like Game of Thrones.

King's Landing??

Both the Monday and Tuesday jump rounds were good by any standards, and downright excellent by "third time off the farm green bean" standards.  Bubba went in the ring quiet, and jumped around like a hunter.  It was a single round jumper course, and I already knew we wouldn't make time without doing stupid shit, so my only goal was to go in and have a quiet, hunter-like round and get some valuable experience.  Pace, balance, and softness was most important to me with a horse still that green to the jumper ring, speed was of no interest to me.

Soonie jumped like a champ.  I could have opened him up more, but that's something we'll work on in future lessons for upcoming shows.  I made sure to keep my entire arm soft, to give with the hand and close my leg on the approach and let him find the base on his own.  This worked beautifully, especially since he was slightly backed-off already with the show environment, and needed some extra support from my leg.  He still went around very quiet and soft, and I couldn't have been happier with him.  I had a few minor decision making issues, but nothing major and I think it was a great first rated outing for both of us.  I was thrilled to bits with him at the end of each round.  So proud of him, coming into that horse show and handling it like such a professional.  My mind is a little blown.

While I wait for the official photos to come in, enjoy some cell phone pics and the ShowNet videos!

Waiting on horse show photos like...

Saturday, May 27, 2017

I'll carry you home...

I try to keep this blog strictly horse-related, so please forgive the vicious departure from our normal programming.  I just don't have another vehicle to use to get this all out there.  So here it is.

Dignified Transfer at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware
Memorial Day 2017 is upon us.  This generally a well-celebrated long weekend for most Americans, who will spend it (rightfully so) out on the lake, barbecuing, grilling burgers and hot dogs, and celebrating the unofficial start of summer.  Some remember what Memorial Day means.  Some say a prayer, some go out of their way to be overly serious about it, to the point of ruining everyone else's fun.  Don't be that guy.  Don't ruin everyone else's fun.  I'm not trying to be that guy.  But it is not a fun weekend for me, especially this year.

I don't "do" death.  It's an incredibly emotional topic that for some reason seems to wreak more havoc on me than the average person.  Just know that, it'll make everything easier to understand.  I'm chuckling at myself as I write that, so you know.

In 2015, I served six months at the Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, where I processed the personal effects of our fallen service members and returned them to their families.  My daily business was death.  I hated to be bored, but in that don't want to be busy.  Because every day you were busy, a family was going through the worst days of their lives.  In some cases, after studying the service member's personal effects, letters, etc...I knew them more intimately than their immediate family.  It was the job.  And at the end of it, I broke down in my room and cried uncontrollably.   But when it was all said and done...I'd leap at the chance to do it again.  It was the single-most important thing I've ever done in my Air Force career.  Even after I left to return to my home station, I carried those individuals with me.  I couldn't bury them.  I couldn't let them go.  I saw their names, their faces, their hand written letters, the photos of their families, the suicide letters, the blood-stained gear that shipped in from theater...I carried that with me for a year or more.

In May 2016, I attended an immersion courtesy of our United States Air Force Honor Guard, where a select number of National Capital Region personnel got to experience the daily "behind the scenes" of the USAFHG's operation at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC).  Part of the immersion was to witness a full honors funeral.  The gentleman they buried was retired, had lived a full life and we all paid our respects from a distance.  But I wasn't there for him that day.  I was burying the dozens of individuals I had been carrying with me for so long.

I was also burying Captain Jonathan "JJ" Golden, a classmate of mine at Officer Training School, who had died in the 2 October 2015 C-130J crash in Afghanistan.  He is buried in Texas.  Three of his fellow TORQE 62 crew members were buried in Arlington.  But following that caisson that day in May, through a mile or more of hallowed Arlington ground, seeing the full Honor Guard and Ceremonial Band procession, listening to Taps play...this was for JJ. It was for all the men I got to know after their untimely death during my service at Dover.  I saluted and held that salute, motionless, while tears streamed down my face.  And just when I felt I had the composure back, the bagpiper played and I wept again.

That was one year ago. This year should have been easier, but it wasn't.  In June 2016, I learned that an Air Force colleague of mine, a close hockey buddy from our time in Omaha, Nebraska, had committed suicide.  His hockey and military friends have all struggled to come to grips with it.  We hurt, deeply.  We're still hurting. My involvement in the Army/Navy hockey game back in December was because I wanted to honor his memory.  And when the United States Army Chief of Staff (highest ranking member of the Army) gave me MVP, I looked up and thanked my buddy Pete.  At the end of the game, I wrangled a photographer, because the only thing I really wanted out of all this was a photograph of my goal mask on National Hockey League center ice, with Pete's number on the backplate.  Everything else was a gift from Pete himself.

....All that is backstory to today.  I have been dreading this Memorial Day.  I want people to go outside and party, and enjoy it.  Live.  Have fun.  But me...can't say I was celebrating much of anything.  I was going to let it pass by, just taking the time to sleep in and spend extra time at the barn.  But yesterday afternoon I found myself buying flowers....lots of flowers...and making plans to visit Arlington first thing in the morning.  I needed to.

I rolled into Ft Myer and through the north gate to the Cemetery at exactly 0800 this morning.  I was completely alone as I walked through Arlington, and I paused to take a photo.  Coming in via the base is so much more preferable to me than the crowded visitor's center, which is crawling with tourists.  As I walked through the quiet north side by myself, the only noises were the gentle breeze and the birds chirping - it felt like a cemetery, and not a travel destination.  I prefer it that way.  I've always loved Arlington; something about it has always spoken to me, and I've been drawn to its peaceful, beautiful landscape for many years.  But my time at Dover, and now having had lost friends, has changed it for me.  Made it even more important.  Reverent. Real.

I carried four bouquets of flowers.  One was for a friend's father, who is buried in the Columbarium.  The other three were for the members of TORQE 62:  Captain Jordan Pierson, Staff Sergeant Ryan Hammond, and Senior Airman Quinn Johnson-Harris.  My classmate JJ's crew.  These men were with him when he died.  And while I couldn't say goodbye to JJ directly, I hoped maybe they'd pass a message along for me.

After winding my way down through ANC, and helping some folks find their loved one's gravesite, I finally was able to look for JJ's crew in Section 60.  I found Jordan's gravesite first.  He was the other pilot on the plane that day; I know he and JJ fought together to save lives that night.  I didn't know Jordan.  I won't even sit here and pretend that I was even close with JJ; he and I were classmates years ago, worked together a little bit during OTS, and were probably Facebook friends for a little while afterward.  That's it.  But I knew him, and he knew me, and when you hear a familiar name involved with a deadly crash, the feeling is indescribable.

I gently placed the other three bouquets on the ground and placed one at the side of Jordan's headstone.  Someone had left flowers and a bottle.  I knelt in front of his grave, carefully reading the inscription on the headstone and just was silent for a bit.  I didn't know what to say.  It took a second for me to feel comfortable saying anything to a complete stranger.

I said I was sorry.  I paused, pulled a coin out of my pocket, and as I reached up to place it on top of the headstone, I asked Jordan to say hi to JJ for me.  And that's when I couldn't hold it back any longer.  It didn't matter that I didn't know any of these crew members.  It didn't matter that I didn't even know JJ that well.  I knelt there in full service dress uniform, clinging to Jordan's headstone for dear life, and wept.

You're not supposed to know people in plane crashes.  Your friends aren't supposed to commit suicide.  You're not supposed to read suicide notes from deployed fathers telling their wife and children back home that they're better off without him.  You don't know who wrote those rules or when; you just know it's not supposed to happen that way.  

I allowed myself to remain there, crying, for some time, still holding on to Jordan's headstone.  It was probably only a minute or two, but it felt like forever.  After I regained my composure, I stood, squared up, and slowly saluted him.  I moved slowly down the row to SSgt Hammond's gravesite and repeated the same procedure for him and SrA Johnson-Harris, not rushing anything.  I knelt, read each headstone, carefully placed each set of flowers and a coin, said a few words, and saluted.  I think I even cracked a joke before I left.  By the end, I felt like I had made some new acquaintances, and while I was sad to have to leave, I don't think this will be the last time I see them.  They give me three good reasons to visit more often...four, really.

I left Section 60 and made my way to the Columbarium to place flowers for my friend's dad.  This was special to me as well, because I initially assisted her in getting him inurned at Arlington.  I wasn't able to attend his ceremony last summer, but I was happy to get the chance to stop by and say hello today.  I placed a coin on his niche and the flowers at the base of the column.

I was done.  I had placed all my flowers, left all my coins.  Paid my respects to everyone I came to see.  There was this mixed feeling of never wanting to leave, and the need to get ahead of the pending rain.  I took my time as I walked back toward the north gate, and as I passed by Section 60 once again, I made sure to look back down the row at the TORQE 62 crew and give them another nod.  I'll see you boys again.

As I made my way back up, I had several experiences that renewed my faith in people; a faith I've lost being in the D.C. area, with its constant hustle and dog-eat-dog mentality.  But Arlington isn't that place.  People are good within its walls.  People have a grip on reality, perspective, and decency.  One older gentleman pulled up beside me in his sedan and offered me a lift to wherever I was going.  I graciously thanked him and declined, as I needed the time to walk and think.  As I neared the Tomb of the Unknowns, I stopped to see the changing of the guard from the side of the complex.  I stood behind the crowd at parade rest, trying not to be noticed and just observe.  I've seen the ceremony many times, but it never gets old.

Photo from a previous visit to Arlington

Once the ceremony concluded, several people turned and quietly thanked me and offered a handshake.  I was not there for recognition, but I will never complain about people being gracious.  There were hundreds of Patriot Guard Riders there today.  I love these people and all they do.  Most are veterans.  All have a deep appreciation for those who have served, especially those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.  It made me happy to see them, to shake their hands, to hear them say "thank you," and for me to thank them in return.  I enjoyed striking up conversations with them.  We smiled and laughed.  It made my heart happy. 

The rides of the Patriot Guard Riders

I thought of my friend, Pete, as I walked out.  The rest of the walk out was just appreciating Arlington, its beauty, and the sacrifice of so many who are laid to rest there.  I love this place more deeply than any other, for reasons more personal than words can express.  This Memorial Day weekend, go out and live.  Laugh.  Have fun.  Party.  It is not a funeral - we have too many of those.  But as you celebrate, please remember what the long weekend is really for.  It's for those who didn't come home.  For those that I carried with me, and continue to carry with me.  Think of their families, and say a prayer.  And then go on living your life.

Honor the Fallen...

Jonathan "JJ" Golden, 2 Nov 1981 - 2 Oct 2015

As strong as you were, tender you go
I'm watching you breathing for the last time
A song for your heart, but when it is quiet
I know what it means and I'll carry you home
I'll carry you home...
(James Blunt, Carry You Home)

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Legends Series: Joe Fargis

Treating this like a proper blog and pretending people actually read it by giving it a very distinguished can throw up in your mouth a little if you want to, it's totally okay.

I used to live/work in the Middleburg, Virginia area many years ago.  I used to ride for a living.  Every day I used to drive by Stoneleigh Farm, the home of the legendary Joe Fargis.  But I never rode with him.  Never really took advantage of living in that area and all the horse knowledge that exists there.  So when I got orders to return to the D.C. area in 2014, I screamed with excitement because NOW I was going to get to ride with all these people.  I didn't know how, or when, or how to even schedule a lesson with some of these legends...but g'dammit, I was going to do it.

Fast forward three years.  I finally got my opportunity.  The farm owner and I traveled out to Upperville on Wednesday to take a lesson with Joe Fargis.  She had worked with him a couple times in the past, and was able to get a hold of him to schedule some dates for this summer.  I was thrilled at the chance! We packed up the horses in the super swanky new farm trailer (box stallllllls) and headed out to VA.  My boots were polished, my tack clean, I was ready to listen and learn...

We got there, I gawked at the beautiful indoor, we got the boys tacked up and down to the ring.  Soon was pretty okay about it, I openly admit I was internally freaking out, so he was feeding off that a little bit.


My most embarrassing moment was when I didn't halt and talk to Joe Fargis about my horse...I kept trotting around him while giving him the rundown on who we are...oops.  He politely informed me to to just stop and have a conversation, and I was mildly mortified, but had to keep going.  We were tense warming up, but that was mostly me.  Joe (like everyone else lately) wanted me to soften my hands.  We worked on slowing the tempo at the trot, being as soft as possible through the hand (even holding the crop loosely at the base of the handle to soften my grip), and relaxing.  The flat warm up was not our best, but thankfully that went relatively quickly and we got on to the jumping.  Thankfully, that's where we both seem to relax and settle in to our usual groove!

We started trotting back and forth over 1, which was a low vertical with 9' poles on either side.  Once we were all soft and quiet, we proceeded to trot over the second fence.  We pieced the course together 2-3 fences at a time before doing the full course.  Soon was very responsive - our new approach of me giving with the hand and just closing the leg to the jump is clicking great with him, as he's finding the base of the jump on his own versus me pulling to the quiet spot or having to dictate the distance.

The course was lots of turns in a relatively small space, I really had to keep the leg on to keep the energy, while making sure he stayed together and quiet enough for the short turns.  I was loving how light he was and how he was reacting to what Joe was having me do.  The first little course was lovely, the second course over the 3' height was slightly rougher, but we came around to the last few fences and repeated 5 & 6 on their own, and he rode beautifully to both of them, and we called it a day.

Nothing Joe said was complicated.  All the great horsemen have an incredible knack for sticking to the simplest concepts; the things that everyone else wants to make tricky, or over complicate, or add an extra 50 steps to.  He focused on softening my hand, staying on a straight line to/from the fence, and closing my leg to support the horse to the fence, and ride away "with purpose" on the landing side of the fence.  Simple.  And the results were absolutely lovely.  Yes, I clearly have something to focus on and improve right now, and it's nice to know that everyone is giving me consistent feedback and complimentary exercises to help me improve. 

Soon felt great, he was jumping well and was totally quiet and focused on his job once we got down to work.  He was also very tolerant of trotting 3' verticals - can't remember ever asking him to do that!  But he took it all in stride and performed beautifully.  Afterward, Joe encouraged us to take the horses for a hack up to the jump field (we didn't ride out there due to the rain the day before), because "that's where we'll be next time."  There's a NEXT TIME!!  We happily obliged - Joe seems to be pretty big on taking the horses out and relaxing after a workout.  We hacked down the drive, around the beautiful pond and up the long hill to the wide open jump field.  The most beautiful jump field!

All in all, this was a dream day.  An absolute dream day.  I rode with a longtime idol of mine, a real legend in the show jumping world.  A man whose riding I have admired since I was a kid.  And the best part: we're just getting started training with him!  The prospect of getting to work with him multiple times between now and whenever we leave makes me smile.  Like an idiot.

Also, after three years, I finally got to take Soon out to the Upperville area and ride in the beautiful fields I used to call home.  I have been dreaming of that simple gesture for such a long time.  And yes, we'll be back in two weeks for the Upperville Colt and Horse Show, just down the street from Joe's.  And after that, we'll go back to throwing any available days off and money at riding with people like Stephen, Joe, and Linda until our big clinic with George Morris in the fall.

I may have waited a little too long to take advantage, but I'm so grateful to still have the chance over the next year to keep riding with all these amazing people.  And have the most incredible, generous horse to do it with.