Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Good Days for Mare-Bears

Ahh goodness, life is good.

It may or may not have starting raining this past weekend (signaling that winter is officially near/already upon us) and that may or may mean that EVERY RING AT STANFORD IS CLOSED (I mean srsly, guys: three outdoor rings that can't take a pittance of rain and an indoor with currently unusable footing? I'm actually not as upset about the latter because the footing WILL be good, but the non-all-weather outdoor arenas really mystify me), but that doesn't matter at all because I've gotten to ride Kiki!!!

(Oh hello western mane... yikes)

She's feeling pretty darn great, I must say. Of course, we've only been walking, but she's been getting calmer and calmer (I actually got on today and was able to rub my legs all over her without her having a total meltdown - YAY!! Back to how we were at the end of the summer in just 4 rides!) and has been feeling really steady in the bridle and loose in her body when I've picked up the reins. She still has moments of being very tense (but would she be Kiki if she didn't?) but overall I'm so very happy with her. Today we couldn't do anything but walk around on the roads around the barn, dodging construction equipment and painting crews as we went, and she was still soo fabulous. Meanwhile, I couldn't make myself stop smiling: the sun was shining, the leaves were changing (well, you know, for California), it was lovely crisp sweater weather, and I was sitting on my horse. It doesn't get much better than that!

And, despite the two month layoff, she still has a topline!

(Sexy mare.)

I'm trying to keep it light and breezy goal-wise, just taking it day by day. The only long term goal is to get her as happy and healthy as I can before I leave for England in January (at which point she'll go with Suzie, my riding instructor from home, for the winter). Let's go!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stanford Alumni Polo Match and Other Shenanigans

(A pack of polo ponies pounds perilously across a perfect pitch... teehee, alliteration win!)

The fundraising season is officially over - YAY! Just one week after the madness that was Red Barn Festival, I had turn right around for the Stanford Alumni polo match, which, like RBF, is the biggest single annual fundraiser for the polo team.

(Russell, our captain this year, on Margi (or Moo, depending on who you're talking to))

(Good pairing off!)

Thankfully for me, the jobs for the polo match were much less about moving tables or jumps and much more about tacking up ponies, getting their riders mounted, and then walking the ponies out at the end of the chukker. This meant that I didn't get to take nearly as many pictures as at Red Barn, but that I also got to spend a lot more time with the horses (which, of course, is always the best option =D). Though, I still did manage to get a few shots:

(Gamo, the White Whale)

(Gooo Elvis! Or, as I like to call her, "Thestral")

(Mo and Moo go on the offensive)

(Some happy players and ponies!)

Polo is very different to shoot than regular riding, because on one hand the timing of the horse's footfalls isn't as important as in dressage (though it's still nice to get the "all four off the floor" shot!), and there's no specific timing like in jumping. Yet, on the other hand, there's many more horses (and that pesky little white ball!) to keep track of, and the phase of the player's swing to take into account. I had a tough time getting sharp shots because of the low light conditions, but got a few very respectable pans.

(A nice near-side shot from Russell)

(Russell goes for the tail (reverse) shot, this time on Margi)

(Oh, Kamikaze...)

We did NOT get lucky with the weather, which decided to be chilly and rainy after weeks (wait, who are we kidding, this is California: MONTHS) of sunshine. Fortunately, everything held off enough that we were able to put on a full match, though there were a couple close moments when it looked like everything was going to have to be called (and the play had to be a little slower than normal to keep everything safe).

(Blech, rain...)

(Mo keeps warm in her super sexy 1990 Cow Palace Junior Champion cooler... badass)

I did take a brief break from what was otherwise an all-polo weekend (Soiree, our big fall formal party where we induct new members formally into the club, on Friday; practice on Saturday; and the match on Sunday) to head with my roommate from last year down Highway 1 towards Santa Cruz for the monthly barn dance at Pie Ranch. Words can't really describe accurately how much fun we had. The barn was jam-packed with people who were just as happy to be there as we were, and I met so many friendly and wonderful people it was hard to keep track. We danced the night away barefoot on the hay-covered boards, and then were so overwhelmed with excitement from the whole experience that we were basically incoherent for the entire hour-long car ride home. If you are EVER in the Santa Cruz area the third Saturday of the month, go to this dance. AMAZING.

(A pause in the dancing at Pie Ranch)

(Gettin a little rowdy during "Coyote")

This next week is a bit of a down one for me, which is good as I think I'm beginning to get sick and am hoping to stave it off before it gets too serious. The dressage team is getting ready for its first show of the year on Halloween, then the hunt seat team (which I'm not really on but will still help out with) has their first home show the weekend after that, and then it's the first polo match of the year the weekend after that, so it will be nice to at least have one weekend to breathe deeply!

(I just got my photographs from Kiki's first Training at Huntington back in August... hopefully we'll get to do this again someday!)

I've been watching Kiki like a hawk since our first walking experiment, and so far all seems well. She's eating her grain more eagerly which is a huge relief (she's a huge pig so I was really worried when she was getting listless with her eating) and hasn't shown any additional soreness/swelling/heat. I've taken her for one more walk, for which she was absolutely nuts but again felt very sound, so I'm tentatively hopeful that we'll be able to keep going with this program. I might investing in some ACE, though...

(Turns out piggies can fly!)

(Note: last two photographs used with permission)

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Best Day!


This weekend I made the decision to start tack walking Kiki again. Since we never really found anything conclusive from the vet, and she just seemed so listless and unhappy in our hand walking, I thought that I could at least give this a try. If it made anything worse, I would almost take that as a blessing at this point because it could give us more information to keep making a diagnosis with (though of course, this was not the outcome I was hoping for!!).

Kiki was hilarious when I went to tack her up. I put her in the cross ties for her daily groom, and she was listless as ever with her head basically being held up by the ties and her ears lopped. When I pulled out the saddle and came towards her with it, though, her head shot up and she pricked her ears - I've never seen anything closer to a horse's face "lighting up" before in my life! She was so excited =) And so was I! I've tried so hard to stay positive about Kiki's injury that I've never really given myself a chance to process how much I've missed riding her: I've tried to tell myself that it wasn't that big of a deal, that I was getting to ride other horses and that was just as good. Getting back on, though, all the feelings of love and admiration I feel for this horse came rushing back to the point where I was almost overwhelmed. I've had a lot of good days so far this fall, but this one outstripped them far and away.

The best part? She seemed very sound! We only walked for about 10 minutes, and on a long rein as much as possible (though she did try to kill me several times which required a few quick regatherings of the reins), but she felt very even and sure. We'll see!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Red Barn Festival 2010

(Andrea runs the colors to mark the official start of festivities)

Well, if I thought when I discovered that Kiki was off that I was going to have a lot of free time on my hands, I've certainly been freed from that impression over the past few weeks. After the whirlwind that was WEG, I had what seemed like just a few mere hours to get caught up before the insanity that is Red Barn Festival was upon me. Red Barn Festival is the big annual fundraiser for both the Stanford Equestrian Team and the Red Barn itself; it combines an invitational horse show (with classes like a 5 bar and a 4' speed class) with wine and cheese and a silent auction. Current team members (myself included) are in charge of physically putting the planning of the event into action and making it a reality (and for an event that annually raises over $30,000, this is no small task!).

(This year we also remembered Bill Lane, a US ambassador who was instrumental in the Red Barn's revival in the early 90's who passed away earlier this year)

(Stanford Equestrian Team alumni, along with Bill Lane's family, pose with the new Bill Lane Memorial Trophy)

This year I totally lucked out in the job department, and after a morning of helping to prep, got to help ref the student-alumni relay and then spent the rest of the day taking photos! My friend lent me her awesome new digital camera (complete with massive memory card), so I could just snap away to my heart's content (always a fun change from the necessary conservatism of my film camera). Talk about a good gig =)

(Nicole and Dreamer in the Student-Alumni challenge warmup)

(My sweet ref job... making sure that the relay contestants picked out the correct bit and assembled it onto a bridle correctly)

(The president of the Board of the Red Barn owns 2 Icelandic ponies that he always lends for the Student-Alumni challenge relay; here, Jane and Elding put the pedal to the metal)

(Loki wasn't as cooperative for Erica)

The 5 bar competition was the first of the "big" classes (after the morning student stuff), and is always my favorite. Last year I got the chance to ride Ringo in this class, and had such a blast! It was a little bittersweet to watch this year and think back to 365 days previously: Ringo and I jumped 4'9" like it was no big thing, and I was just bursting with excitement at the potential I thought our partnership had. If you had told me then how the next few months would go, I wouldn't have believed you; It's still just so hard to compare the light hearted optimism I remember feeling that day with the crushing frustration and doubt that defined our winter and spring together.

(Oh geez, this is getting a bit heavy; let's break it up a bit, shall we? Here's Handsome looking, well... Handsome)

I know that that's part of horses, but it was still hard to not think about all the what ifs again. I just hope that I can do well by Ringo at this point; even if he never jumps a stick again, let alone 4'9" (though at this point there's no reason to think that he won't be able to return to top form), I hope that I can give him a quality of life that will make up to him the horrible spring that I put him through. We'll see; it's only forward from here!

(We also had western demonstrations... I mean, why not?)

The 5 Bar ended being won by Stanford student Nicoletta Heidegger at the totally impressive height of 5'6"!!! Serious "holy crap" height. There was an interesting moment where the two finalists both had a rail on their first attempt at 5'6" - then, they got the opportunity to decided whether they would attempt again. I tried to put myself in their shoes and realized that I would have a pretty hard time getting over the nerves to face a jump that big, when I'd already failed once! I was super impressed with bravery of both the riders (and obviously the horses too!) when both decided to go for it again. Nicoletta pulled it out, securing her the win. Awesome!

(Nicoletta and Coolman in the winning jump!)

From there, we had a 3'6" relay speed class and then a 4' speed class. Both made me very nostalgic about jumping, which I currently have not gotten to do since August 22nd!! The good thing was that the height never looked too crazy, so at least I haven't completely lost my nerve (at least on the ground...) on my hiatus. Next year, Kiki and I will be there!

(My friend Emily competes in the relay)

(Emily's trainer Dusty competes in the 4' class)

(Mmm... wouldn't kick this horse out of the barn!)

(This one, either =) ... and his rider has only been doing jumpers for 3 months!)

After the riding was over, it was time to turn my attention to the silent auction. Very excitingly, I had three of my large prints up for bid. Even more excitingly, they actually sold! I was sooo terrified that they were weren't going to sell and it was going to be super demoralizing, but the three of them went for a combined total of $575, which is not too shabby at all. I was there when the auction closed out and one of the ladies who had bid on my work was there, too, and when she heard that she'd won she let out a big whoop and pumped her fist. How cool is that?? Someone was actually excited over something that I'd made! Totally unreal. I was sad to say goodbye to those prints, as I was very proud of them, but am so thrilled that they're going to make some other folks happy. I also got commissioned for some more portrait work from people at the festival, so I might get to make a little money from my hobby over the next few weeks! Very cool =)

(Me with my prints (one of which is directly behind me))

It's another breakneck week, now, before the Stanford Alumni Polo Match at Menlo on Sunday. I won't be playing, but I'll helping out and enjoying a day of polo at one of the nicest facilities in the bay area. Plus, I've talked to my friend whose camera I borrowed for Red Barn Festival, and there's a good chance I'll be able to take it for another spin. I've never shot polo before, which should be a fun learning experience to say the least!

(Phew! Red Barn 2010 = Complete! On to the next adventure...)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

WEG Redux; Show Jumping

So I've come to my last WEG recap post. It's been really fun to relieve it all over again, so it's a bit bittersweet to think that there isn't any more competition left to savor (now, if I could have convinced my parents to skip an extra week of school/work, we'd be telling a different story!! But that's neither here nor there ;)). But all good things must come to an end, right?

(Henny looked great!!!)

(Very well-deserved pats for a clear show jumping round that would eventually finish them 40 places better than their dressage score)

Unfortunately for the US fans (myself very much included) the good things came to an end for our team about an hour sooner than we'd hoped or planned for them to. After a middling ride from Buck Davidson that resulted in one rail got things going for the team, Boyd Martin put in an awesome double clear that really got my heart pounding. Yes!!!

(Buck and Reggie, who's got to have some of the best forearm action out there)

After Boyd's ride, we were running up against the clocks to get home, so just managed to squeeze in Phillip Dutton's round on Woodburn before we had to leave. And, egads!!! A rail??? From Phillip?? On the second last fence?? A seriously blanching moment. As my parents and I walked away from the stadium, hearing the disconnected cheering of the crowd at intervals as we headed back to the bus depot, we shared rather dark looks. Could they pull it out? Unfortunately we'd have to find out later, as it just wasn't a possibility to see it ourselves.

(Boyd made it happen and looked classy the entire way)

Just as we got to the airport, Mom managed to get online and find the news: 4th. Dang!!! What a bummer!! I admit that I had gotten REALLY into Team USA, and so it felt like an actual kick to the stomach to hear such news. I can only imagine what the riders must have felt like!

(Phillip's rail marked the beginning of the meltdown)

The good news, though, is that, as a lifelong Red Sox fan (who is, thus, used to being strung along for 2/3 of a season with high hopes and then dropped like a sack of dirt at the final hour), I think I recovered more quickly than most. I was really surprised to see all the negative backlash that went down in the days following: I absolutely agree that there were some parts of the selection and team training that I did NOT agree with, but I think I would have felt that way no matter what the system was. The truth is that selecting for a world championship team is tough, is going to get political in some way or another, and at a certain level the horses are going to get sidelined for other priorities. I've talked to many people who've been involved with the team since the '70s and '80s, and that take away is pretty constant. It's not something I approve of, but it appears to be a fact of life at the elite level of our sport. So, I didn't really get why everyone was so shocked and awed by our selection and process this time around. I'm a red blooded American and want to see my country succeed BADLY, but I don't really get how whining, raging, and pointing fingers (and calling Karen O'Connor fat?? Really??) is going to get us anywhere.

(And let's not forget that there were some serious success stories out there, like Team Canada! Here Hawley Bennett jumps an AWESOME clear round that helped her team secure silver)

(Hawley and Ginny take an impromptu victory lap after their round - I think I would have!!)

The biggest shame was that the whole post-show jumping meltdown seemed to make a lot of people forget the magic that we'd witnessed in the park the day before. Watching cross country had been like capturing lightning in a bottle, and these people were so willing to squander that incredible feeling through griping and vetching. I don't understand, I guess. For me, I know that, win or lose, it was one of the best equine spectator experiences I've ever had. As I said when I first got back, it made me hungry like I haven't felt in a long time to be the best horseman that I can be.

Oh, and it might be fun to pop through the Head of the Lake, too =D

Thursday, October 7, 2010

WEG Redux: The Sunday Jog

(Boyd and a rather wild-eyed Neville Bardos)

Sunday morning dawned super grey and chilly, which was a rather shocking change from the previous day's sun and warmth. Despite these inauspicious conditions, I convinced my parents to hop one of the earliest buses to the park so that we could get good seating for the jog. They poo-pooed me, but lo and behold! We arrived well over an hour early, and still didn't get into the front row, though our consolation spot in the second row was still pretty darn awesome. We whiled away the hour reliving the excitement from the day before and speculating how the US might fare in the Show Jumping that afternoon. I personally was feeling cautiously optimistic that the US riders would be leaving the park with some hardware around their necks, barring any shocking turns in the jog itself.

(Mandiba strikes a pose on the way to the presentation to the ground jury. I'm not a huge fan of the cowboy hat/American flag ascot combo, but it certainly wasn't the worst team outfit at the jog.)

(FRH Butts Abraxxas looking so kind and alert)

(Mr. Medicott giving a regal look to the crowds)

Once the jog got going, it went very quickly. I always love watching the trot ups, just for the basic enjoyment of watching how differently the horses move, and how universally beautiful they all are. Every horse presented just oozed class, though (as I always am) I was surprised at the wide variety of shapes, sizes, types, and personalities on display. It's so amazing how many different right answers to any question there are out there, and the sheer variety of horse types at the trot up seemed to illustrate that point to me more clearly than ever before.

(There were little pointy firecracker types like First Lady...)

(...as well as bigger boned warmblood types like HJ Hampton...)

(... downright chunky horses like Vittori...)

(... and super refined, typey horses like this Italian horse whose name was like five words long that I won't even try to get right; doesn't he just have the biggest, softest eye you've ever seen?)

The one thing all the horses had in common was incredible physical fitness (there were a few that were so tucked up and fit looking they could have passed for big, fancy racehorses) and the sort of alert, intelligent expression that makes me swoon. These are some VERY clever animals, and I think more so in general than in a lot of other disciplines; just imagine the amount of intelligence required for a large pack animal with a brain the size of a walnut to gather together that it's supposed to be calm and submissive even in incredibly electric conditions one day, be a fireball and gallop and jump flat the next, and then turn right around and jump roundly and carefully the day after that! I never cease to be amazed by these creatures.

(This French horse had a very keen, intelligent look; a real "look of eagles")

(Horseware Bushman looking a bit worried (though I love a good worrier) but very handsome... the rider's pretty easy on the eyes as well!!)
(Mmmm... yes, two VERY good reasons to move to Ireland right here =D)

(Hawley Bennett and Ginny looking sooo cute together)

It was good to see so many horses looking so good after what had clearly been an enormous test the day before, though I was also a bit mystified by a few of the ground jury's decisions: there were a few horses that looked ok-ish that got sent to the hold, and a few horses that were wild or VERY sketchy looking were passed without incident. Then, from the few horses that were sent to the hold, every one that re-presented was accepted, even when a few of them were (in my opinion) MARKEDLY off. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall for some of the lengthy conversations the ground jury had that morning, because I certainly couldn't follow all of their decisions myself. Of course, no one wants to get spun at the jog, but a few of the horses that sailed right through without even a vet examination (which happens when a horse is sent to the hold) looked listless and flat at best, bordering on uncomfortable and sore at worst. But what do I know?

(The Jump Jet competed at Burghley just a month before WEG, but still trotted out sound as a dollar on Sunday. I REALLY don't agree with running a horse at two CCI****s in a month, but have to commend this horse's soundness!)

(Buck and Reggie looking very dapper)

(Andrew Nicholson... a total silver fox. And what a horse!!)

(Mary and Imperial Cavalier looking like such a wonderful partnership)

I was crushed for Becky and Comet, as they had been SO lovely to watch the day before, but at the same time could not fathom why they had presented at all, as Comet was so uneven you could hear it. I know that Becky is a great horseman, but I found her presentation of this obviously unsound horse to not only be in bad personal taste but also to speak very poorly of our national program and values. I wasn't privy, of course, to all the decision making that went into the choice to present and so will reserve full judgement, but certainly it didn't look great from the side of the spectator.

(Concrete proof that eventing is a heartbreaking sport)

(Phillip and Woodburn... also not the most spectacular jog, though they passed without incident)

After the jog, we tried to spend as much of the intervening time before show jumping in a warm place as possible. The weather had turned positively wintery, and even Pa was shivering (a huge sign!!), so we hid out in one of the museums for a little while before braving the Bit of Britain tent to pick up from more fleecy things before finding out seats. As every other person on grounds appeared to have the exact same train of thought as we did, trying to fight through the Bit of Britain tent was probably one of the more intense physical activities I've done recently; there were times where I was literally clawing and kneeing my way through sheer mosh-pit-density throngs of people. But, thankfully, it was significantly more bundled up (and warmed up after the work out that was fighting for a spot in line!!) that we found our frosty seats way up in Row Y of the grandstands for the thrilling conclusion of the weekend.

The conclusion WHICH, unfortunately, will have to wait for tomorrow, as I've got my first midterm of the year tomorrow to study for... =)
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