Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful









Man, it's a good life =)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Few More Polo Pictures, and an Added Treat


Here are a few more photos from the match on Saturday - thank you Patrick! (and thank you Fallon for taking the photos from the original post!)

(Me n Junebug, ready for action)

(Up out of the tack, Kate!)

(In for the near side... I think I actually made this shot!)

(Ooh we've got some hooking going down between me and USC girl)

(Look! We're actually in a paired off line like we should be! Shocking!)

(Goooo Girlfriend!)

(Up out of the tack and ready... now go get that girl! Don't just watch her gallop away!)

And the big treat for the weekend? I GOT TO JUMP!! FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE AUGUST!! I warm up rode for the Stanford Equestrian Team home show on Sunday before polo and, though I thought I was only going to do a flat warmup, ended up being called up for jumping at the last minute. I got to ride Maui, who's a newer horse on the team that I'd never ridden before. He was AWESOME and took total care of me even though I was feeling super rusty - I've only even ridden in a jump saddle twice so far this autumn! Thanks, Maui =)

(Not too shabby - Good boy, Maui!!)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

First Polo Match!!


(Stanford Women's Polo... I kind of wish I (3) didn't look like a house compared to Laura (2), who is legit a stick figure, but what are you going to do)

(Very red faced, but very in love with this sport!!)

(Ahh... the good life)
Bad news first: we lost.

All the good news next: THAT WAS SO FUN!!!! Like, seriously, it was like getting to ride 4 CCI cross country courses back to back in terms of adrenaline and excitement (and, more literally, in terms of time - four 7 1/2 minute segments of galloping and turning - I was wiped by the end!). I've got a ridiculously large amount of stuff to work on, but hot dang am I hooked.

(Good pairing off!)

(Yeehaw!)

My biggest issues were trying to figure out where to put myself to get into the play, and trying not foul too often. I got a lot better in both of these departments as the game went on, but still was pretty weak on both fronts. It took me until half time, for example, and the direct observation of our coach, Mike, for me to realize that my entire basic positioning strategy was wrong: I was coming up beside the play-- and so felt very very close to the action!-- instead of being in front of or behind it, which is the only way to actually be useful. With this in mind I was a lot more in it in the second half, but it was pretty late on by then to make a real charge against USC.

(I'm in the red helmet - see how I'm right next to my teammate? Yeah, that's not right.)

(Even between chukkers, I was a little bit "out of the play"!)

On the plus side, I rode better and better as the game progressed (also helpful that I got progressively easier horses!) and actually hit pretty well for my experience level whenever I actually was in the play. Those things are definitely progressing well; I just feel like such a space cadet sometimes!

(Juno was my first horse and definitely my toughest - I'm excited to practice more and get better at riding the stronger horses, but I definitely left a bit on the table on Saturday!)

(By the time I got to Grappa, I was doing a bit better)

Finding my way in the play is NOT something that comes naturally to me at ALL: it requires a quickness of visual pattern recognition and anticipation which I've never been able to transfer from my everyday life (where I'm actually quite good at those things) to horses... there's something about riding that has always fried my circuits a little bit in that department. Add in a polo mallet, a little bouncing ball, and five other galloping horses, and you can imagine how much more mind-bending it can be! I know this is going to be one of the things about polo that I'm probably going to struggle the most with, but I'm very excited to take on the challenge. If I can get my brain firing quick enough for polo, I can only imagine how my response-times in my other riding will improve as well =)

(The sort of clusterf**** situation that requires the mental sharpness that I currently lack!)

(Exciting moment - my stirrup leather slipped right off the saddle halfway through the last chukker! Fortunately I was able to keep the iron on my foot and get it reattached with no trouble. Whoops!)

Today we got to play some more chukkers, which was a great chance for me to try to turn right around and work on my weaknesses a day later instead of a week later (which is what normally is the case). And by the third chukker, I definitely felt like I was improving! Man, this sport is fun =) It's an exciting time right now because every time I play I feel like I've made concrete improvements from the time before. Let's keep it up!

(The women's team commiserating Saturday night; once again, I'm a little out of the play!!)

(Only downside of the weekend: Sake exacted some serious revenge on me today for using her mouth as a lifeline when I leaned too far out and almost fell off! Turns out that wooden walls are significantly more solid than my leg. Touché, Sakebomb; touché.)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bittersweet


(Ringo and Pa out hand walking earlier this fall - thank you Mom and Pa SO MUCH for taking care of Ringo while I've been away, I wish so badly I could be there too!)

Back home in Massachusetts yesterday, Ringo had his 2 month check to see how his tendon was going. At the last check, the vet had said that it was likely that, if all went well this time, I could get clearance to maybe get on him and start taking him for mini tack walks in December. As I've now not ridden Ringo for over four months, you can imagine how excited I was at the prospect of getting to climb aboard again!!

Unfortunately, it wasn't to be. Ringo's leg is looking better and there has been definite progress from last time, but it's very slow-going. Dr. L believes that because the injury developed over such a long period, there is an unusual amount of scar tissue present that's mixed in with everything else and has to be broken up in addition to the actual healing of the lesion, which explains the slow progress. Hope is definitely not lost on a full recovery, but it's going to take longer than we'd thought. Ringo won't go under saddle until at least January, with of course the time until he returns to full work far, far beyond that.

Of course I'm thrilled that Ringo's injury is progressing, but I'm also very disappointed as this new timeline means I won't be able to ride him again before I leave for England, which means it may be almost an entire year (or more!!) from the time of his injury until I get to sit on him again. I'm trying to come back to the States over spring break and would hopefully be able to visit him then, but at this point that's more of a hope than an actual plan. I miss Ringo very much; I feel like we were only just getting to know each other when this injury took him away from me.

But enough of that heavy stuff. Today is my first ever polo match, and I'm that wonderful mix of nervous and thrilled and let-me-at-it excited that I usually only get to feel right before cross-country. Wish me luck!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Bit Down and Out at Davis


So, merely a few hours (literally) after getting back from Rocky Horror (and a good few minutes of that time was spent trying to scour red lipstick "V"s off my forehead!!), I out and about again, this time armed with my white pants and stock tie to take on UC Davis at the IDA show they were hosting up in Davis, CA. It was raining already when we gathered in the parking lot at 5:30 to depart, and the miserable weather would follow us all the way up to the show.

Feeling very short on sleep, I elected to not drive and instead try to catch a few Zs on the way up, so I clambered into my friend Patrick's little 2WD pickup and away we went. I fell asleep almost immediately, not expecting to be awoken until 2 hours later when we were pulling into the horse show.

So, imagine my great surprise and horror when I heard Patrick's voice calling me and opened my eyes to find our little car staring right into oncoming traffic on the Bay Bridge! Patrick had been cruising along at a safe speed when the car suddenly hydroplaned on a patch of hard-to-see standing water; the car did a full 180º spin to end up facing completely backwards before Patrick was able to turn, and then we ended up overcorrecting and sliding across three lanes of traffic to end up facing 90º in the other direction. All of this, mind, while suspended several hundred feet over the San Francisco Bay. I've ALWAYS been afraid of driving over bridges, and can honestly say I've never been more terrified in a moving vehicle in my entire life (even worse than that time Pa decided it would be a good idea to try to weave our trailer between a caravan of semis at 70 mph in a driving rainstorm at 3 in the morning... and as you might imagine, I found THAT pretty terrifying). Fortunately Patrick did everything right, and even more fortunately we were completely alone on the road at the time, so we were able to right and keep going completely unscathed. Still, it certainly was something I think neither of us will ever forget and we spent the rest of the ride in a stunned and adrenaline-induced silence.

After the incident driving up, I pretty much decided that as long as I made it back safe and sound to my bed that night, I was going to call the day a success. And it's a good thing my standards were so low, because that pretty much ended up being the highlight of the day!

I'll try not to complain too badly; the show was organized and well-run and we had an indoor with good footing to ride in. It wasn't anyone's fault that the weather was miserable or that, after the crashes of highs and lows I'd been having all weekend, I felt like a wrung-out sponge and was quickly developing a nasty head cold.

(The team chilling in a brief moment of sunshine)

I was bummed when I had to redraw off of the super nice and steady horse I'd gotten originally because he was getting tired (and I was to be his fourth rider - yikes!) and got instead the "alternate horse," who was only used once all day (for me) and was absolutely terrifying. Seriously, I was proud of myself for staying within the arena and approximating all the movements, because he took off with me in our first canter warmup (to the point where I had to pulley-rein to stop him) and then bolted all the way across the arena at the sound of the judge's bell. Frankly, I was thrilled with the fact that I survived, and managed to keep him from exploding, though I was upset at myself for letting him break in the first medium trot (which nearly resulted in our elimination because I could barely stop him in time to keep him in the ring). So then it was a bit a "sour taste in the mouth" moment to get a very low score and rather unfriendly remarks in the judge's comments at the bottom of the test. The judging all day was pretty wonky so I didn't take it too personally, but it still felt pretty low to be so unrewarded for what I had thought had been a very tactful ride.

(Patrick, my actual life-saver, looking very distant and windswept after a loooong horse show)

But, the good news? We had a BEAUTIFUL drive home and everyone made it home safe and sound. Thank. You. God. I spent most of Sunday night in a ball in bed, and woke up on Monday to find that I'd left my voice behind in Davis. Seriously, there was nothing left. I've just started to get it back four days later, but in the meantime have been enjoying my best-ever Donald Duck and Squawk-Box impressions.

(Nature's apology for a heck of a long day)

This weekend we have our first polo match of the year verse USC. So. Excited!!!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A VERY Special Ride on Kiki


So, as I was mentioning yesterday, Saturday was a pretty unreal day weather-wise: sunny, breezy, low-70s, the kind of big cotton ball clouds that just make you want to sit out in the sunshine and think about how lovely it is to be alive, and the first hints of green winter grass poking out through the normally golden California stubble. The Horse Park has a wonderful cross country course that, after the bit of rain we've gotten, was looking ridiculously verdant and beautiful and, despite that same rain, was actually open and just inviting innocent passers-by to try to grab the nearest four-legged creature and hit the tracks.

(Just a small sample of how insanely gorgeous it's been recently - now imagine this weather (with better clouds), but with big wide open green fields, and you get what I was looking at on Saturday. Who could possibly resist??)

Innocent passers-by... like me! I admit it, I was hypnotized. As I was driving out of the horse park to go ride Kiki, faced with another day of hoofing it around the parking lots, between the barns, and around the edges of whatever open rings I could sneak into at Stanford, I got almost sick with longing at the idea of riding out in the open again. So, in a moment of delightful spontaneity (something I'm not generally very known for), I pulled into the office at the last minute and signed up for a day pass to the park.

(What I've been used to these past few weeks... I still can't get over how lovely the view is between those ears, but the track around the rings has been getting old fast)

Feeling almost giddy with what I'd just gotten myself into, I raced back to the barn, feverishly hitched up and loaded the trailer, and grabbed Kiki. Fortunately she was looking pretty fly, so I didn't have to work too hard to get her public-ready (though her mane is, alas, approaching western pleasure length... must pull immediately!!!). I booted her up, loaded her, and a mere 40 minutes after leaving the horse park I was pulling back in with Kiki in tow.

It was only as I started to tack her up that I began to get a little apprehensive. What if she went nuts? It was an awfully big space, and if she got out of control (or worse, ditched me and got loose) she could run for a loooong way and get very quickly re-injured (or, I thought grimly, injured even worse than before). She'd always been a total star about new places, but has also had some pretty epic moments of sudden-onset cray-cray-ness at home that I was worried would be exacerbated in a new, big, exciting location. But, not to be deterred, I put a foot in the stirrup and swung aboard.

And... she was AMAZING. She did have a minor fit when we first approached the entrance to the cross country course (she's been here before and I think she suddenly understood where we were going) but after I led her by it and went in through another gap she was much better. We bopped around on a long rein for a good 45 minutes, and I couldn't have been more pleased if we had schooled the entire Prelim course. It was just unreal how wonderful it felt to be out in the sunshine with my horse again, feeling the breeze and the warm dapple of the sun and drinking in as much of the vista as my eyes could take in. Kiki was clearly having a good time too, her ears pricking at every jump we passed and her stride feeling light and energetic as we marched around.

(Heaven.)

We did have one minor incident towards the end of the ride where I was sitting on my tailbone with one hand on the reins, when suddenly Kiki thought it would be clever to bolt for a few strides then drop her shoulder and spin, all for no apparent reason, which I will admit very nearly unseated me!! Fortunately I was able to very quickly throw my weight back to center and re-gather the reins (thank you Eric Smiley for instilling in me the need to practice picking those up in a moment's notice!) to keep all possible damage to a minimum. Afterwards I could almost hear Kiki chuckling to herself at her little stunt, though I was glad to have gotten the last laugh on her... I'm pretty sure she would have found it highly amusing to put me on the floor when I'd had my guard so utterly down (as she has done so unceremoniously in the past!!). Despite this little situation, she jogged out very well on the hard ground when I got back to the trailer, so I think no harm was done. Phew!

(Kiki was happy to be reunited with the water jump... and check out the reflection of those clouds!!)

In the few days since, she's still felt very sound and even, and has a definitely upturn in morale, so I'm feeling very good about my choice to go. It's been raining more and more often, so the likelihood of getting another day to go out is dwindling quickly, but if I get another chance I'm sure going to jump at it! Who knows when the next time will be that I'll be able to ride my own horse in such a beautiful place??

After that, it was a quick scramble to get everything cleaned up and put away, and then myself cleaned up and prepped for the midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show in Menlo Park. I'd just watched the movie on its own for the first time a few weeks before Halloween (and yes, I admit, I was one of the many who got swept up in the madness after Glee did it for their Halloween episode), and so was VERY VERY excited to get a chance to do the full RHPS experience. My friend Clare came with me and, though it was migraine-inducingly loud and boisterous and we ended up staying up wayyy too late given my 5:30 departure the next morning for Davis, we had a raucously good time. I don't usually include non-horsey photos here, but these were just too amusing to pass up:

(Clare as Brad, showing off the super classy lipstick "V"s all first-timers get branded with)

(Me as a pretty good Janet, if I do say so myself =D)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Manic Weekend


It seems like every weekend this fall I've reached Sunday night in a puddle of spent adrenaline, simultaneously marveling at how much I got done (and how little of it was homework... yikes) and wondering whether I could possibly do it again in a week's time.

And yet, it's happened again! This weekend, though it lacked some of the big-name commitments of past weeks, felt like a foot race right from 9 am on Saturday Morning to 7 pm on Sunday night, with polo, a VERY exciting ride on Kiki (which is going to get its own entire post), a midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show and all of its accompanying shenanigans, and an all-day IDA show in Davis (complete with bonafide near-death experience!!) on Sunday fighting for top billing. Add that in with the fact that the week preceding had been one of the busiest in my time at Stanford so far-- three major (6-15 page) papers and two major midterms-- and, needless to say, I'm currently feeling a bit wiped out.

There were so many disparate riding adventures this weekend that I think I'm going to split them up into a few separate posts. Today's? POLO.

(Russell assigns ponies for the day - in addition to the chukkers we played, we also had practice for all the new players)

Saturday morning we went and grabbed all the ponies, "brushed" them (I put this quotation marks because the Stanford Polo approach to grooming is much further on the "basic functional" than anything I've ever seen: we basically make sure there's no big patches of mud, gaping wounds, and that all four legs and attendant shoes are firmly attached, and that's about it... I constantly think back to being in Suzi's program and can only imagine the delicate shade of green she would turn if she saw us!!), and loaded them on the trailer to take them over the Woodside horse park where we play in the winter.

(lots and lots of ponies)

As a side note, polo trailering as also a completely new and mystifying concept for someone like me who's grown up worrying over the horses even when they're booted, bumpered, and enclosed in extremely insular little cotton-wool compartments: in polo we put on the boots they're going to use to play (on the way out; on the way back they get nothing) and then pack them in sideways, facing in alternating directions, as tightly as we can manage. The shock is that this goes incredibly smoothly 99+% of the time. Of course, polo ponies are used to being in a lot closer quarters with their fellows than your average riding horse, but I'm still always surprised at how well they take to being treated like sardines during the trailering process.

(Seriously close quarters! I also can't get over the nylon halters and lead ropes (though we do use breakaway twine), but that seems to be a pretty common California thing and not just a polo one - still, it makes my inner Pony Clubber shudder)

Anyway, we got over the park, got unloaded, and readied three of them for me, Russell (our captain and all around badass men's player), and Elizabeth (who, like me, is a fellow eventer and also joined last spring) to play in a few chukkers with local players from the Horse Park before the start of full team practice. This was the first time I'd ever played against people who weren't either my teammates or my coaches, so I was a touch apprehensive that I was going to find myself way out of my league and that the play was going to completely pass me by. Fortunately, everything turned out to be super relaxed and the Horse Park players were incredibly friendly and forgiving of my relative novice status. The play was lively but not too fast, which was perfect for me, and I really got to practice finding my place in the play and staying in the action.

(Elizabeth with Tini, the "Mongolian War Pony")

For the first chukker I rode Stout, who is probably not my favorite of our horses as she's quite big, slow, and lumbering, though she's very safe and genuine so I can't complain too badly. Fortunately I remembered to borrow a pair of MASSIVE smooth-rowel spurs (by far the biggest things I've ever attached to my boots!!) which allowed me to be able to make her canter... a distinct improvement from the last time I rode her, where I basically stood in the middle of the arena with my legs going like a rider in a Thelwell cartoon while the rest of the play raced from one end of the arena to the other without me!!! I was still a bit conservative and had a bit of a time getting her up to speed, which kept me out of a lot of plays, but overall felt like I had a much better understanding of where I was supposed to be and had a good time riding people off (by far my favorite part of polo =D). We ended up losing the first chukker but Elizabeth and I both made a lot of improvements in our play (Russell played very well as usual, but held back on purpose to try to give the two of us more time in the action).

(Stout at the Alumni match... looking tank-like, as usual)

We had a brief break and then were up again; Elizabeth and I switched horses so she had Stout and I got Gamo (or, as I call her, "the White Whale"). Gamo is a small white butterball who you would think would be even lazier than Stout... but you'd be dead wrong. She's shockingly quick for her chunkiness and turns very well, just getting a hair strong in some of the more open plays. I've been a little freaked out by her in the past because she can get pretty wound up and unhappy about the contact (sounds like another little grey mare I know.... hmmm) but on Saturday she was absolutely PERFECT. She went, stopped, turned, and went again, all with very little demanding on my part; it was a very cool feeling.

(Gamo on a set earlier this fall; I may or may not have been riding and holding the ropes to two other ponies when this photo was taken... safety first!!)

Because I was feeling so gelled with her, it was a lot easier for me to practice getting a little more aggressive and into the play. The end result was that I got to the ball way more often than I ever had before, actually hit some good technical shots, and even hit the ball hard (like, so that it actually went a good distance) out of the gallop in the middle of play for the first time EVER!! Yay!! The hitting has far and away been the most difficult thing about polo for me and I've been putting in many, many hours in the hitting cage over the past few weeks to try to improve that part of my game, so it felt good to feel like maybe that work's been paying off. I still have tons and tons to work on in terms of knowing the strategies and figuring out where I should be within the play at all times, but I really think the past few times out have helped me a lot. I'm so thankful for everyone who's been putting up with me running into them/over their ball/across their line over the past weeks; I promise I'll keep getting better!

(A very doofy and fat-cheeked me and a very tuckered Gamo after a great chukker... Thank you, Gamo!)

So, that was two fairly major adrenaline bursts down, and it was barely noon on Saturday. I helped put the ponies away and then made to leave the Horse Park. As I did, I couldn't help but stare longingly (ok, even more than that... LUSTILY) out at the beautiful green cross country course that was open that day for probably one of the last times all year. It was sunny, low 70s, and absolutely perfect. I hadn't been for a ride out and about at Woodside all year, and at that moment the want to be out in that big green field was completely overwhelming. So, I started hatching a plan for a little excursion...

BUT, that part of the story will have to wait until tomorrow! =D

Monday, November 1, 2010

First Home IDA Show for Stanford!



(Stanley being THE BEST! And my position has gotten so much better, too!)

Well, I may have written a few weeks ago that the fundraising season was pretty much over for me, but now the show season has begun!! Could you guess which of the two I'm more excited for? =D


(Seriously, how can you not loooove this animal??)

We kicked things off this year with our first EVER IDA (Intercollegiate Dressage Association) home show at Stanford; we just formed a team last year, and so this was the first chance for us to step up and take a stab at hosting. The show did not run absolutely smoothly, but everyone on our team worked hard to fix the problems that there were as soon as they arose and did it with a smile: you can't ask for much more than that.

(I lent my boots out to a teammate and so got to spend most of the morning rocking this classic look)


(Stanley in carousel horse mode)

On the actual competition front, I think everyone did really well: for a lot of people on our team, it was their first time showing dressage, or at all!! So given that, there were some really good rides. One of our teams ended up winning (yay!!), and I think everyone placed pretty well.

I was competing as an individual in the 1st level (highest) division. I drew my favorite school horse, Stanley, who also happened to be wearing my very own dressage saddle for the day!! Score!! I've only shown in one IDA show before, a year ago at Cal Poly, but I'd had a good time and ended up winning my class then, and so the competitive side of me really wanted to make it two for two. I was last to go in my division, which had the advantage of getting to see Stanley go already, but the disadvantage that by the time I got to him he was a little tense and quite tired. Fortunately, Stanley and I are serious lovers and know each other very well (I brought him through his rehab program a few years ago and have been star-struck ever since), so that with the 10 minute warmup I was able to get him relaxed without wearing him down too badly.


(A little stiff in the arms, but at least Stan looks fab)

He was PERFECT in the ring, the best I've ever had him feel. He did get a little lost in our first leg yield, but that was my fault entirely, and then he stepped back a hair in the halt, but he did that in every test he did so I think it was a point where he legitimately didn't understand what he was being asked to do. His mediums were great, though, in trot and canter, and I was proud of the accuracy with which I rode (and which is not something I'm always famous for!). In the end, we were able to pull off the repeat win on a 67%, 4% higher than the second place rider and 10% ahead of 3rd- thank you, Stanley!!!

(Up the last centerline - Stan is such a star!)

Now things get serious, with another dressage show next weekend and our first polo match the weekend after that. Very excited!

(On to the next!)
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