Saturday, September 30, 2017

....Now What?

The GHM clinic was our goal all year.  We worked hard for it all summer, really put the pedal to the metal and got stuff done.  Then it was clinic time...We came, we did, we didn't die.

We followed up with a fancy pants horse show in which I managed to not permanently damage my horse.

Can't get enough of this photo

And now I'm sitting here wondering:  now what?

There is an empty void and I'm not sure how best to fill it.

It was a seemingly non-stop summer between all the different lessons with Joe, Linda, and Stephen.  Now that everything's over, part of me wants to take the foot off the gas pedal and just coast, and return to our old "oh hai nice pretty horsey let's go trail riding and dressage (maybe) but probably not, just trail ride because that's all I have the motivation for" routine.  I do have a hockey season to start getting ready for, and I haven't skated since the spring. 

But the other part of me wants to ride this train as long as we can in light of all the progress we have made, together.  That part of me wants to do the Anne Kursinski clinic in November.  The other part of me feels like I'd rather not.  My dilemma is that this is limited opportunity to ride with another great that might not come my way again, and certainly not anytime soon if my job has its way with me.  The downside is that I'm not super enthusiastic about it, and it's a rather large check to have to cut.

The struggle is real and it is in my brain between two completely different energy levels:


And maybe I'm just dreading the feeling of wanting to vomit and die for three more days straight, who knows.

So...Soon and I had a few days off from riding after Piedmont, and have been hacking the last three days and staying out of the ring.  My motivation factor was in the tank, but I have managed some shoulder-in, leg yields, and general dressage-ness while riding around the farm.  I did drop into equitation weekend today at Capital Challenge, and just being back in the horse show atmosphere made me want to run back to the barn and set up some gymnastics, or do some ground poles without stirrups.

Lazy!me just wants to do more of this:

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

....And Then I Lost All Faith in Humanity.

I had some very mixed feelings about my weekend and my value as a horse owner driving back from Piedmont.  It was a good weekend in the end, but I needed some time to mull over it and see it that way.  In the moment, I wasn't so sure, and when I got home, I really was rather regretting it.

Why?  Because this:


I traveled home with the back doors open as it was 85+ degrees and I felt like Soon needed the extra ventilation.  And some ASSHOLE thought it would be funny to target a live, innocent animal in the back of a moving trailer with a paintball gun.  Soonie was okay.  He had a welt where he was hit, but otherwise unhurt and completely himself.  I feel extremely fortunate that he is so level-headed, as this could have caused a tragic accident if he had spooked in the trailer.

 I've had my screaming fits over this, I cried after I got Soon cleaned up.  I've called or emailed every law enforcement agency I can think of that might be the least bit interested.  My friends and fellow horsemen have all offered their sympathy and shared outrage.  I've learned yet again why I hate the greater DC area and why I despise the lower rungs of humanity that dwell here.

This is why I hate people.  This is why horses are too good for us.

A Taste of Humble Pie

Shortly after I posted about our experience at the George Morris clinic, Soonie and I went viral.  The Chronicle of the Horse saw my blog and asked to repost it.  There were thousands of likes, hundreds of shares, hundreds of comments.  The Retired Racehorse Project, CANTER USA, Bernie Traurig, even George Morris's social media people picked it up and shared it.  I was completely surprised not just by the popularity of it, but the exceedingly nice comments that everyone shared.  Usually social media isn't that kind.  I was shocked, in the best way.

Riding the high of this media wave, I once again got myself and Soon packed up to head to our second USEF rated competition, the Piedmont Jumper Classic (held at Salem Farm, home to the Upperville Colt & Horse Show). It was here I got reminded that I'm human and make stupid mistakes and got a taste of some freshly baked humble pie.

We left for Piedmont on Thursday.  Soon hauled over well and got settled immediately.  He really has the travel thing down now, and after last week at Beverly for the GHM clinic, this was cake.  This show was like Upperville Lite - all the fancy jumps, the tent stalls and some of the atmosphere, but on a slightly more modest level.  It is a lovely venue and a lovely show to take a green horse to.  Put it on your calendars because it's a great show.

We call this "making friends"

This is his horse show face

Soon hacked well on Thursday, and came out feeling great on Friday.  Kim and I worked with Canadian Olympian, and Middleburg-area local Sonya Crampton for the first time, and I am so thankful for her truly outstanding coaching.  I added the .80m schooling jumper class as a warm up, in addition to our .90m class immediately afterward.  Soon jumped around the .80m just fine, but a little look-y.  I had a stupid rail having not judged the four-stride correctly.  We came back into the .90m class and he went around like a star.  Sonya had us going along on a much more open, flowing canter stride, focusing more on getting to the jump a little earlier - once again coming flowing out of the corner with leg on, soft hand, and allowing Soon to find the base of the jump.  We went double clear and walked away with a blue ribbon for our efforts in the schooling class.

Photos:  Hannah Jones Photography

I planned on stepping up to the 1.0m schooling jumper class on Saturday morning.  We had schooled more than that at home and with Joe, and felt it was a good challenge.  But as I walked the course, seeing the exactly how large the jumps were, I started to have doubts.  I should have scratched and stuck with the .80m and .90m classes again that day to build upon Friday's success.  But I didn't.  I saw numbers as progress, and ignored what would have more training value.

We warmed up confidently and went into the ring.  The first jump was okay, Soon listened very well to my leg and my request to open up his step significantly and come forward.  We rolled down to the oxer in the bending nine strides, he felt much more confident over that and I thought we were good as long as I rode him well.  We came around the corner off the short(ish) turn to the one-stride, which we met very well and jumped out of nicely.  And that's when the wheels started to come off...I didn't close my leg enough off the oxer, and our four strides to the vertical left him a little long to the jump.  He took it like a champ, but when we came around the next corner to a big, single oxer, I didn't have him forward or straight enough.  The distance was gappy and he didn't feel confident enough, so he ended up stopping.  I came off elegantly, but still came off.


I immediately regretted my decision, and I felt terrible.  Not for myself, but for Soonie.  I stretched him just a little too far.  I had to be 100% accurate with that ride for it to succeed, and I fell short, which left Soon to figure it out at a level where he wasn't completely confident in himself.  He trusts me completely, and I failed him.  This was poor horsemanship.

I calmly ran up my stirrups, reassured Soonie, we walked out of the ring together (no temper tantrums here!).  Sonya did an excellent job of getting my head back on straight, as I was completely frustrated with myself for pushing too fast, being greedy, and asking too much of a green horse.  We jumped a few small fences in the warm up just to end on a good note, and I went and added the .80m class in order to get him around again in the show ring and end on a positive note.

I put Soon away and we both took a break between classes.  I felt sorry for my poor decision making and I generally wallowed in my situation.  Soon and I went around the .80m again with no issues - a little look-y again, but he went around as I asked him to, and went double clear for another blue ribbon token.  As Sonya said, it was money back in the bank.  Soonie didn't hold anything against me.  This horse has all the scope I need, all the talent I need (probably more than I need), he just needs mileage.  And mileage can't be rushed.

We looked good in the 1.0m while we lasted!

Rocking around the .80m again for good measure
Good boy Soonie!
Overall, I think it's hard to look back on this show and call it anything but a good experience.  I can't say enough wonderful things about Sonya and her coaching this weekend, I'm excited to work with her more in the future.  Soon went well on Friday.  Yes, I made a mistake and had him just outside his comfort zone the next morning, but he wasn't traumatized and didn't hold it against me.  He jumped around fine later that day, and seemed pretty content with horse show life.  I learned, conclusively, that he needs more experience in the .85-.95 classes for the foreseeable future before we try 1.0m again.  And I realized that if we were to try to attend the Anne Kursinski clinic in November (still undecided), it would need to be in the 2'9"-3' group, to avoid overfacing Soon again.

This horse wants to do it.  He tried very hard all weekend even when other horses, under the same circumstances, might have quit.  He wants to do it.  He just needs to be shown how.  I've been unfair in how I regard him - he trains with horses that are vastly more experienced, and he not only keeps up, but he performs on that level in training.  But he's not on that level.  He hasn't seen what they have seen.  This is his first year out showing.  Piedmont was his fourth show.  He still needs to get used to dressed fences, max widths, galloping strides.  All those things are more than just jumping a specified height.  He can do the height (see the 1.0m photo - plenty of scope to spare), it's everything else he needs to see, to learn, to become confident with.  And he will.  He just needs time and a patient approach.  He is a very careful horse - that careful quality will make him an incredible jumper, but it presents a minor challenge in development.  I think he has a real talent, and could legitimately be that 1.20m horse I've joked about.  But he'll need plenty of time to tap into that talent and develop confidence.

I should have known that before, but I know it now.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The George Morris Clinic.... aka I'm on fire but it's fine. I'm fine.

Well, here it is, the massive blog entry about the Thing We Have Been Waiting For All Year.  But first, how about we warm up with some beloved George memes:

....Sweet baby Jesus help me.

It's been a long road this year with the George Morris clinic as our target.  This is something I have wanted to do since I was a kid.  I am very lucky now to have the horse, the opportunity, and the amazing support system to help prepare us for this.  I remember back in the early spring when I signed up for the clinic the internal debate and outward screaming I was doing when navigating through the sign up screens.  There was definitely screaming when I hit the payment button.  But I figured this was my opportunity.  I had audited the Beverly clinic in 2016, and told myself that Soon and I would definitely be there in 2017.  I had to.  I may have to move next year and this may, legitimately, be my one opportunity to ride with George Morris.  I was not sure we would be ready.  But there’s a little thing I like to tell myself when facing tough circumstances or challenges in order to quell the self-doubt:  “Why not?”
It was a tough summer, but a good one.  We started working with incredible folks, some of whom we got to see the week leading up to the big GM clinic.  What better way to prepare than these folks?

Linda Zang, Friday, 8 Sep 7
We hauled down the street to ride with Linda for a last minute lesson.  We started with our usual warm up routine and Linda was very pleased with Soon’s trot work.  It’s such an amazing feeling to have someone like her tell her auditors “I really love this horse.”  I’ve been trying to play with more shoulder-in, especially around corners, per her instruction from the last lesson.  This has helped him move more through his shoulder and into my outside rein.  The big breakthrough came when Linda saw me posting somewhat awkwardly tracking right – something was up with that right seat bone, and we made it our mission to figure it out.  Bottom line, I’m not over my left (outside) seat bone enough when we track to the right.  As a result of being of heavy to the right, and cranking that right seat bone forward, it made posting very awkward, and it the root of our more recent right lead canter issues.  As soon as Linda identified that, and we played with my balance some, Soon let go very nicely in the trot and canter, and we had zero swaps/cross-cantering issues going to the right.  He was super!  Linda seemed very happy as well, we had a few laughs over this and we both felt like we had really solved an issue.  I made a mental note to stay much more to the left for the upcoming George Morris clinic…

Joe Fargis – Sunday, 10 Sep 17
We got another last minute opportunity to ride with Joe prior to the GHM clinic, and Kim and I decided to take him up on it!  We rode in the indoor (I was not-so-secretly doing the happy dance because I didn’t have to put studs in since we weren’t in the jump field), so I knew it was going to be a very turn-y jump school.  We started with a low bounce, cantered down to a vertical, around to two verticals in a one-stride, around to a single oxer, down the other outside line to another in-and-out (two oxers), then around the corner, through the bounce again, and then a snaking turn to a low oxer set in the middle of the ring.  My takeaway from this lesson was that I needed to plan and execute my turns better.  Joe emphasized being proactive and starting the turn off the bounce and the jump across the middle of the ring while I was in the air, and shaping the turn on the landing.  Once it went smoothly at 3’, he put the fences up to 3’6” and we rolled around the course again.  Soon felt lovely – I focused on keeping my leg closed on the approach and softening my hand to the jump, and allowing him to find the base.  He is getting so confident at that, and he rides so well to the fences when they’re put up a little more.  I love that Joe just throws the fences up – you don’t have time to get too concerned about the height when you ride with him, which is great.  You just have to do it, and then realize after the fact that the fences were bigger.  No time to change or second guess your game plan, which more often than not results in the same consistent jump that you had at the lower height.  It just emphasizes the fact that height is not important – the plan (pace, line, etc) is what matters.  We all left feeling very confident and ready for whatever George had to throw at us come Tuesday.

George H. Morris – 12-14 Sep 17

Before we went anywhere I had to check off all the requirements in the George Morris Clinic Survival Guide:  horse did not look feral.  Traditional irons were on the saddle, boots were polished, and tack was spotless (Soon does not wear a martingale so no issues with the age old standing vs. running debate).  I had an alias in place in case I embarrassed myself and my family name and had to move to Canada.  I knew the difference between a Half Turn and a Half Turn in Reverse. We had a counter canter.  I could adjust my stirrups “properly.” Soon jumps liverpools (more or less…), and I had done some work without my stirrups this summer.  I did not get around to re-reading GM’s Hunter Seat Equitation book like I had wanted, but I did look at the pictures, and that’s almost as good (right?).  I was prepared to ride that third grader logic straight into the ground because at that point, I didn’t have time for the words.
I also reviewed my goals for the clinic:  1)  DO NOT FALL OFF….I like to keep this list short so I do not forget it.
We hauled out to Beverly Equestrian in The Plains, Virginia on Monday to get the horses settled.  I so enjoy going to Beverly, it is such a lovely facility and I am grateful to have such lovely opportunities within a reasonable distance.  We left early enough to arrive at the polo barn (our temporary home) before anyone else, and got our pick of the available stalls.  We got unpacked and once the horses were settled, we took them for a hack around the property.  We found the trails and spent about a half hour just trail riding to get the horses legs stretched.  It was a perfect, relaxing ride.  If anything it totally took my mind off the pending doom that awaited the next day.  You know the pending doom - the knowledge that you're about to get your head ripped off by one of the most famous horsemen on the planet and it's going to be in front of about 50 other people and possibly the entire Internet.

Good thing I'm in the military and I can take being screamed at.  In fact, I don't know what has helped prepare me more for the GM clinic:  my equitation days with a tough, but brilliant trainer and No Stirrup MONTH, or four months of officer training where nothing you do is right and sometimes there are three huge dudes screaming in your face for no reason whatsoever.  Yeah, so, I'd say that when it comes to being yelled at, these days it's kinda no big deal.

By the case you forgot what Beverly looks like, here is the video again:

 Afterward I found the Most Adorable Cottage Ever that I rented for the week and got ready to attend George's talk at the National Sporting Library in Middleburg.  It was an interesting discussion about classical horsemanship and what is missing today.  GM offered his favorite excerpts from books by Chamberlain, Wright, and others.  After having GM sign my copy of his book, Unrelenting, I retreated to the cottage and relaxed for the evening.  I finally broke down and tried AirBnB after I decided I was way less likely to get murdered in horrible ways if I wasn't trying to stay in NYC or something.  Because Middleburg seemed like a pretty safe, non-murdery place to try paying to stay in a stranger's house for funsies.  And it was, by the way.  I rented the same cottage for the jumper show next week, and I'm already excited about it.  I'm especially excited about that shower.  The bathroom might take up 45% of the cottage, but I don't care because it was WORTH IT.

 Day One
Thanks to Kim being wonderful and staying with the horses, I didn't have to show up until almost 8am, so I was able to get some extra sleep.  I checked on Soonie, took him for a quick hand walk, then watched the first hour or so of the 3'6" group.  I elected to do the 3' group with Soon, since that seemed like an adequate challenge back in March or whenever I signed up for this clinic.  More on that later.  Anyway, I got Bubba ready and came up early to do a light warm up in the dressage ring, as he seemed a little up.  The first day went very well, far better than I expected.  Soon is so mature about traveling - he took everything in stride (even the gaggle of auditors) and was an absolute superstar.  

Flatwork focused on some transitions, then shoulder-fore and then shoulder-in exercises.  In the canter, we focused on keeping the horse truly straight - something that made me VERY thankful for our work with Linda Zang!  All the while GM emphasized keeping the hands up with a straight line from bit to elbow.  Jumping on the first day was straight forward, with a gymnastic exercise to start, where GM highlighted my following hand (jumping out of hand/"automatic release"), which I was happy he noticed.  I was also happy to hear his praise for my "classical hand" over the jump...when you expect to get killed by your discipline's most famous trainer, hearing praise of any kind is almost shocking.  In a good way?  Or is it a trap?

 Day Two
I was feeling really great about the first day, so my nerves were slightly less on edge for day two...that is until I saw that the first group had all their stirrup irons removed.


There's that horrible, sickening sinking feeling when you first realize that you're in for the infamous No Stirrup Day.  It's not entirely a surprise - you signed up for a freaking GM clinic for crying out loud - but you hope that maybe...maybe...he'll have an old person moment and forget.  Because he only told us 847 times how old he is, it seemed like a logical possibility...

But it wasn't.  I accepted my fate, I had a whole hour of the first group to mull over it and come to terms with my situation.  I figured if I fall off today, I might as well keep digging the hole so I can crawl in it and die, just bury me where I face planted.  I did work without my stirrups this summer, but not as much as I wanted to.  Suffice it to say, I was really reaching back to my equitation days and seriously channeling my 17-year old self that, for some absurd reason, really loved riding without stirrups.

I was an overachiever then, and my 33-year old self now really hates that 17-year old show off.
I was very happy to know that GM didn't demand posting trot much, only a lap or two of that, the rest of the trot work was all sitting.  But maybe halfway through our flatwork session I'm riding around in front of an audience AND George Morris without my stirrups trying to look as professional and relaxed as possible, but feeling like:

I think the most exciting bit and surely my death sentence was having to trot the liverpool with no stirrups.  Because we have some pretty well-documented liverpool shenanigans from this year.  I started thinking how long it would take me to dig my own grave in the ring with my hands, or if I should ask the barn staff for a shovel, but thankfully the patient liverpool work I did with Soon this summer paid off.  His first time over it he hesitated slightly and then jumped huge (I stayed with him), but the other times he went over it just fine.  I didn't have to ask for that shovel after all.

We got our stirrups back after the Canter That Would Not End and to my surprise, George asked for Soon.  GEORGE MORRIS WANTS TO RIDE MY HORSE, THIS IS NOT A DRILL.  Now, GM has always ridden in his clinics, but these days he seems to choose the better behaved/schooled horses to ride, and this year he had two Beverly riders on hand to ride the problem ones.  So I suppose that was a compliment that he wanted to hop on Soonie himself (footage of GM riding Soon starts at 1:37 in the full video below).

GM jumped Soonie through the grid several times, noting and praising the Thoroughbred, particularly the true TB quality of being "quick on the blood," meaning that Soon was very responsive to George's aids.  And he was - he was the right amount of forward and reactive, but still relaxed and quiet.  He went quietly through the line and quietly up into the corners with no drama and stood quietly.  Bubba was so obedient and he really showed off.  I cannot adequately describe how proud of him I was, and still am.  My heart swelled.  Ring crew were complimenting him as GM rode around.  This little war horse came off the backside of Fairmount Park four years ago, and here he was making George Morris smile.

George wrapped up his ride and (sadly, after the video had been stopped) as he approached me, asked me "What's his price?"  I laughed and shook my head, saying he wasn't for sale.  George insisted again, "What's his price?" and I had to again say that he wasn't for sale, not for any price.  I can't tell if GM was miffed or amused by that answer, he replied with, "I've never had ANYONE tell me that!"

I got on and the jumping went just as well as the first day, with the exception of me completely forgetting to finish one of the exercises, which got me rightfully CHEWED OUT by George Morris.  That's okay, that was completely deserved.  But, to be fair, it was the only time out of the three days I got chewed out or yelled at.  So, that has to be a win.  We ended day two on a strong note.  I didn't feel that I rode as well as I did on day one, but still a solid performance, and of course Soon was the star.  Afterward, I asked GM for a quick photo with him and Soon.  He told me again "I really like your horse!" and Dr. Betsee Parker (of hunter land fame) was kind enough to say "He's a lovely horse."  Two A-List horsey celebrities loving on a $1500 off the track Thoroughbred right there!

Day Three
By now most of the nerves of having to ride in front of GM had completely worn off.  I was tired, my body was sore, and there was a part of me that was just ready to be done.  Three days of 2-hour clinic sessions can be a lot, especially now that I'm only riding one horse most of the time.  Ten years ago this would have been nothing, but I was also riding four to eight horses a day then!  Not so much now.  Half of me wanted to fast forward to the part where the clinic was over, and part of me wanted to soak up every second and enjoy it.  This may never happen again.

There was also a part of me that was worried that No Stirrups Day Part Deux might be a thing, but thankfully, it wasn't.

My reaction to keeping our stirrups on day three
Soon's reaction to day three in general

The flatwork day three was pretty straightforward, just some school figures and practicing changing the bend.  In canter, we worked on lengthening/shortening the stride in the two-point contact, while maintaining straightness both through the turn and down the long side.  The jumping went well, where Soon and I were praised by GM for being so straight down the tight four-stride to four-stride combo.  We also did well on the long, galloping approach to the triple bar.  I made to sure open up Soon's stride and let him come forward out of the turn as GM had told me the past two days.  It worked - I closed my leg and softened my hand as we have been working on, and met the triple in the perfect spot each time.  We did have a stop at the liverpool the first time, but after a quick correction, Soon hopped right over it and rode well to it the rest of the day.  Compared to where he first started with liverpools, that is a huge achievement.  

Next was the bending five-stride line to the two-stride, to the one-stride.  Soon and I gauged this well and got complimented on how we rode it.  We went through that three times, and then wrapped up the session for the last time.  It was over.  We had done it.  We had completed three days with arguably the most infamous clinician on the planet, and come out all the better for it.  

GM asked the last group at the end of their session where in their comfort zone they felt the clinic fell.  I considered how I might answer that question, and the reality is, it was well within our comfort zone, to the point of the exercises being very straightforward.  I actually got a lot more positive comments from GM than negative, so I don't know if that's a good thing or if perhaps I should have considered the 3'6" class with Soon.  That said, as a trainer I know that the 3' class was absolutely the right decision this time out.  It was our first big clinic experience together, and our first time riding in front of GM in a relatively high pressure situation.  It was good to be able to look at the questions and say "Oh that's no problem at all."  It took some of the pressure off.  It allowed us to really shine rather than just scrape by.  We were still challenged enough to walk away with some good exercises and a list of things to improve/polish, which I believe is important.  You don’t go to a clinic to have someone say “Yeah you were fine,” you go there to learn how to be better.  That seems to be one of George’s biggest talking points: you can always be better.

- Carry the hands.  I sometimes worry that Soon gets overbent and breaks over in the neck or gets too low - carrying the hands, paired with the outside hand/leg to straighten and collect all helps keep him up in front.
- Do not look for the lead.  I don't know why I do that, it's such a second grade thing to do, but I sometimes look down at my lead and I got nailed for it on the third day.  I will work on some exercises to reinforce the feel.
- Let the horse flow out of the turn.  This is consistent with what Stephen and Joe have both been telling me, to keep the leg on around the corner and allow the horse to come forward out of the corner to the fence.

After my last session concluded, I made sure to approach GM again.  I think he was expecting another picture request (the other riders were getting those in, but I had my picture with him the day before), but I just shook his hand and told him thank you, that it was a privilege to ride with him and I thanked him for his time.  He took my hand in both of his, looked me in the eye and said thank you in return, and that I was "a great student.  A great student."  That means the world to me. To have looked forward to this for so long, to have worked so hard and with so many great trainers to get to this have that feedback on both Soon and myself was the best sort of validation for both our efforts.

We got home Thursday night and Soon got turned out immediately.  He's been out all night, all day today, and again tonight, and he got a massage session this afternoon.  He seemed very pleased about that, he does love his massages!  The boy deserves some pampering.  Also, I've fed him approximately 8,374 carrots since Monday so he seems pretty pleased about that too.

Enjoying the post-clinic downtime!

I could not be prouder of Soon.  We had not gotten out and about much prior to this year.  He stepped up to the challenge and took absolutely everything in stride.  He is a truly special horse.  Generous, smart, athletic, willing...I am so lucky to have him in my life.  Every day with him in a blessing.  He owes me nothing, and I owe him the whole world.  He has earned it.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The most important blue ribbon that I didn't even win

Scroll back a few posts and you'll see that Soon and I went to Upperville this year.  Not only did we go to Upperville, we jumped clear, Soon made his jumper rounds look like hunter rounds, and he seemed very relaxed and happy in the big horse show atmosphere.  All that for a horse who had only shown off the property twice before that.  Suffice it to say, it was a huge gamble from a training perspective, and it paid off.

I received something today from my wonderful friend, Kim.  Something that will have a special place in my house and in my heart.

We only did the schooling jumpers, just to be safe and keep things fun.  Basically, if you go double clear (no jumping faults, no time) in the schooling jumpers, you get a blue ribbon.  Soonie and I jumped clear, but because I was using this experience as a schooling opportunity, we kept things slower and smoother, and just focused on the experience.  That's the verbose way of saying that we had time faults both days, so we didn't get a ribbon.  That's fine, because I walked away with a happy horse, good experiences for him, a memorable weekend with my friends in hunt country, and a smile on my face.  I didn't need a ribbon to know that was a successful show.

But, it wasn't like I didn't want a ribbon.  Because ribbons.

Kim and Scotty went double clear in both their rounds, so they won two blue ribbons!  And because of her incredible generosity and thoughtfulness, she gave one of them to me today.  It's one of the most important blue ribbons I have ever received, and I didn't even win it.

Soon and I stretched ourselves to get to Upperville.  So did Kim and the two horses she brought.  It was a hard few weeks preparing, and the days there were long.   But we had fun and we all learned a lot.  We worked our asses off for those couple of days at Upperville, playing in the big kids' sandbox.  And it was worth every second.  I felt like because of my job and uncertain future, this might be our one shot at competing at Upperville.  I've wanted to ride at Upperville since I was a kid.   This was a real dream come true for me.  Soonie made that happen.

So while we didn't win this ribbon, Kim was kind enough to point out that Soonie and I earned it.  It is a gift from a friend who I can never thank enough for her kindness, support, and generosity.  It will memorialize not just our efforts to get to Upperville and what happened there, but also our time here at this farm.  It represents our time with our family here.  That means more to me than just a standing in a class or even a horse show ever will. 

Joe, Linda, Stephen, OH MY! And Joe again!

Soonie and I have been pretty busy lately so here's a quick recap of some of our most recent lessons.

Joe Fargis - 11 Aug
We had our third lesson with Joe, this time it was outside in his jump field.  Soon came off his mini-layoff with a couple of hacks, flat rides, and only one (light) jump school at home prior to this, so he was a little "up" for the jumps in the huge field.  And by "up," I mean I'm pretty sure he was doing this out the trailer window as we pulled into Joe's yard.

Actual footage of our arrival

Big field, lots of jumps, lots and lots of horses schooling around us,wet grass and no studs (WHEEE!) made for some exciting moments, but thankfully despite some yee-haws, he was still very rideable to the jumps.  It maybe wasn't the most productive lesson learning or progression wise, but Joe saw I had a relatively hot horse that day and he kept things to a dull roar.  He is such an incredible, calmingi influence.  Soon was clearly feeling better, he jumped very confidently all morning.  He even did the liverpool with zero drama!  He thought about stopping the first time, but I closed my leg and showed him the crop and he went right to it.  From there on he felt very solid going to the liverpool.  Bottom line, it was a good day.  I felt like I had my horse back, and Joe was very pleased.

Linda Zang - 14 Aug
A few days later we hauled down the street for our third dressage lesson with Linda.  I have to stop and pinch myself sometimes because the opportunity to ride with her is just so, so incredibly special, and I'm floored that someone like me (not a dressage rider, not even an eventer!) gets to work with her, and she's just has enthusiastic about working with a jumper as she is working with someone at 4th level.  She had Soon and I work more on moving him through the shoulder, building on what we started in June.  This time, though, we started at the trot and she had me put him into a shoulder-in through the corner.  This helped get him moving more freely through the shoulder, as well as stepping more through from behind.  His trot work started to feel REALLY lovely, and got a couple of compliments from the auditors and Linda too.  An auditor must have asked about Soon's breeding, because Linda explained he was a I trotted around, I heard her say to the auditors that Soonie looked like a warmblood because he had good muscle and a topline (which, I must say, is sadly missing from the average TB folks see out and about).

We quickly refreshed some of the canter work from last time, as well as adding some 10-meter and even 8-meter canter circles, focusing on keeping him engaged behind and straight off the outside rein.  We worked on his right lead as well and tried to troubleshoot his recent cross-cantering shenanigans - which are caused by me, of course.  She and I talked it through, I tried a few different things, and it's a fun combo of him blowing through the outside shoulder and me sitting too heavily.  We got to a good place though, that discussion was very useful.  Sadly I did not get video this time, but Linda was extremely complimentary of us, which just made me beam ear to ear.  Those sitting around and watching also seemed very happy with Soon as well.  We cooled out as Linda and I talked about the upcoming George Morris clinic, and she shared some fun stories and offered some excellent suggestions.  Can't wait to ride with her again!

Stephen Bradley - 15 Aug
So at this point Soon was just totally sick of me showing up at non-standard times of the day during the week.  He knew he was getting on the trailer again and was not super stoked about it.  But, being the polite gentleman he is, he didn't complain.

Him when I showed up for second day in a row to haul him off to a lesson
The lesson with Stephen was straightforward, but super useful as always.  I love Stephen's style.  He also has to be the nicest human being on earth.  Bonus that everything he says is spot on and consistent with both Joe and Linda.  Nothing major to report here except that Soon jumped confidently again, I didn't suck too bad, and Stephen was happy with what he saw.  He put in a couple little tests for us, including coming off the corner in the counter-canter, jumping a single vertical, and halting nice and smooth.  The counter-canter changed the type of canter we had, and the point was to be able to jump from those different canters.  He put the jumps up for Soon and I at the end and we did our last two courses at somewhere between 3'-3'6", and Bubba jumped well.  Big thing for me was just keeping the pace and balance through the corners.  We'll be catching Stephen again at the end of September after the GHM clinic and our jumper show.

Joe Fargis - TODAY! YAY!
I splurged and took another day off to drive out with Kim to lesson with Joe again.  Soon more or less had the last week off between recovering from Legend Lesson Extravaganza! and his shoes being loose/falling off.  I did manage to get out Wednesday and Thursday evenings to ride him to somewhat prepare for Joe, but still...Soon was clearly feeling great, had a little too much energy, and I wasn't feeling the most confident going into today's lesson.  But I went for it, because any day you get to lesson with Joe Fargis is never a bad day.

I can this possibly be anything but amazing and special?

We were back in the jump field again, this time with studs in, and this time with a horse who was less high on life.  I especially enjoyed lessoning on a Friday, as Kim and I had Joe all to ourselves up there on the hill.  No other lessons or clients, no other horses schooling around, nothing.  Joe took his time and it was like he had all day to just teach us.  It was wonderful.

The big issue today was definitely me.  I just couldn't find a consistent pace, rhythm, line, or anything really.  The warm up went well, Soon was perfectly rideable and less bouncy than the other week, which was nice.  But once we started jumping the bigger course I just couldn't make a decision.  At one point, Soonie stopped at a simple vertical (into the two-stride), which was extremely telling.  I just didn't get him there and he didn't feel like launching.  It was a wake up call for me to ride. When he stopped, I didn't react or hit him, because it was entirely my fault, not his.  I just sat there for a few moments and tried to get my shit together before coming around at it again.  We had a couple stops at the bounce too earlier on, so I wasn't feeling like I was doing well.  The doubts and frustrations from the night before were eating at me.  I was having those "Dammit I can't ride every day because I have a full time job and the horse isn't in training and I can only do so much" weakness moments.  If that's even a weakness.  It's just frustrating sometimes.

Joe was perfect here.  He saw that I beat myself up over mistakes and that it gets in the way of me getting the job done.  He didn't rush, he didn't get tougher, he just said calmly (almost jokingly, he had to lighten the mood!) to let it go and don't dwell.  Relax and just ride.  I have that pep talk on video and I'm going to keep it so I can refer to it later.  He handled that situation perfectly, because afterward I sat up and rode.  And Soonie went beautifully as a result.

It was another fantastic day, and I'm thankful that I went despite maybe not feeling like today was going to be our day.  As Kim said, what better time to ride with a legend like Joe than on a tough day?  He can (and did) help me work through that and actually improve.  It's not as useful to show up and be perfect, you don't learn as much.  Show up, try hard, and if mistakes are made, Joe can help me navigate the turbulence, as he calls it.

After the Stephen lesson last week, I had to stop and just be thankful for what I have here.  And now after today's ride I'm still just in complete awe of being able to take Soon and ride with these incredible mentors.  Each ride is invaluable and inspiring.  Each person is different, but the fundamentals are all still the same.  Three disciplines, three gurus, all with my little Thoroughbred I took off the backside of a racetrack four years ago. Soonie is feeling so much better, and we got our mojo back. I am so grateful for him, for our barn friends, and for the opportunities here to work with some true legends of the horse world. Nothing is forever, appreciate it while you can!