Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Recharged and Ready

Phew! After a grueling finals period, my friend and I decided to do Spring Break right with a little road trip. Neither of us are originally from California and now, as seniors, face the fact that our time in this amazing state might soon be drawing to a close. So, we each picked a California attraction (within the general scope of southern California to make things more realistically doable) that we wanted to see before we went and vowed to make it happen in one 4-day mad cap adventure. I picked Joshua Tree, and my friend picked Disneyland. The contrast between these two places drew a lot of chuckles from the people we told our plan to, but they ended up complimenting each other perfectly.

(chillin at Hearst Castle, one of my favorite Highway 1 attractions from my time living in Templeton)

(looking SUPER CUTE on Space Mountain)

(My friend Clare and I at Disneyland!!)

(Again. the cuteness. So out of control. Also seriously digging the other people on the ride)

We had an awesome day driving down Highway 1 (probably one of the most scenic roads in the US, if not the world!) on Friday, got up early enough to be on the first tram-load of people into Disneyland on Saturday (where we stayed for 15 hours solid and rode 21 different rides, went to 2 parades and 2 spectaculars, and watched 1 badass fireworks display), then wandered through the desert to Joshua Tree on Sunday (where we drank beer out of mason jars and shot beebees and arrows at the coolest hotel EVER). Finally, Monday was a mad race back to Stanford, where we returned our gas-sipping rental car exactly one minute before closing time. It was exhausting and yet refreshing, and just my kind of vacation.

(With Tigger!)

(Casual in It's a Small World)


Meanwhile, Ringo spent my time away recovering from getting his hocks down, a painfully expensive procedure that hopefully will have the dude feeling loose and limber for the season ahead. I rode him for his first ride back last night, and it was a bit of a comedy of errors between me feeling so rusty and him feeling so wild after being shut in a stall for three days, but hopefully that means we've gotten the bad dress rehearsal out of the way and are ready to shine at Galway!

(Checking out the Salton Sea)

(Having fun in the desert at Joshua Tree)

(My buddy Clare, unexpected beebee sharpshooter)

I have a good plan for the next few days and am ready to execute it. I'm ridiculously excited and can't wait to go back to Galway, which is certainly my favorite event venue in the West and possibly in the entire US. It will also feel somewhat full circle to return to Galway with Ringo, as this show in November 2009 was our last Preliminary together (and my last Preliminary to date... sigh). I feel like I've done a lot of growing up between then and now, some moments of it more painful than others, and I'm excited to come back with a new perspective. Here we go!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ringo Goes Commando

So Ringo, despite his many strengths, has a few major quirks. Hatred of ponies ranks pretty high up there, as does his extreme wariness of fake liverpools (especially now, when he hasn't been asked to jump a stick in almost two years) and his firm belief that the white lawn clipping sacks the maintenance guys at the Red Barn use are, in fact, warnings left by Satan himself. There are also his unique habits like always hanging out in the back right corner of whatever stall he lives in, even at shows, and his disdain for any candy that is not mints, sugar cubes, or carrots.

Now at this point, I'm guessing a fair number of you are reading this and thinking, "Bitch please, that's JV league neurosis at best. My horse is wayyy weirder than that..." And you would probably be right. That is, until you heard about Ringo's newest sartorial preferences.

Ringo has decided that he prefers to go commando.

Now, what does that exactly mean in horse terms? Horses don't, after all, wear underwear per se. But they do wear saddle pads which, like underwear, are an intermediate layer that goes between the horse's body and more expensive pieces of equipment like saddles (which let's face it, put any $200 pair of designer jeans TO SHAME in terms of excessive pricing). And Ringo has decided that he wants nothing to do with them.

Now, a little backstory. Right from Day 1 of owning Ringo, I've had a hard time finding a saddle pad that stays. I've used sticky pads under regular pads, thin pads, thick pads, nonstick combo pads, ecogold pads... and they all slide back. Even if I use ones with keepers, the pads inevitably move and bunch. I've checked my saddle fit, used vastly different kinds of saddles, and nothing has made a difference. I've sort of made peace with it, and have used a Polypad in the meantime as it's done the best of everything I've tried.

(The saddle pad wrinkle: the first telltale signs of major slippage to come)

Well yesterday, my pad drifted back so much that it actually slipped right off (granted, my girth was also mega loose, thanks to Ringo's epic puffing abilities). This usually happens around once a month, and usually when it does I get off, retrieve the pad, reassemble everything, and head off again. Yesterday, however, I decided to just tighten my girth (now even more shockingly loose than normal with the subtraction of a 1/2" thick pad) and move on.

(saddle pad in the midst of slipping at Three Day Ranch in 2010)

And what a difference! Ringo was considerably more in front of my leg than he had felt literally seconds earlier, felt freer, looser, and more responsive. Huh? My best guess would be that the pad tickles/itches him as it moves around, which makes him tense in his back. He is very ticklish by nature so I could easily imagine him being sensitive enough to be bothered by even such a slight movement. Oh Ringo. My delicate little flower.

I test rode him without a saddle pad again today and, even without spurs, had a great forward ride (where normally I feel like I need spurs when I ride to keep him adequately in front of the leg). I was able to really push him, and his quality of canter was unreal by the end, combining impulsion and collection to a degree that I don't think I've ever achieved before. Good boy, Ray!

I'm hoping to find maybe a half-pad that I can use to protect my saddle panels to some extent (and look a little less... strange), but in the meantime... Commando it is.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Springtime Shenanigans

This past week it finally has started raining at Stanford, after a somewhat worryingly mild winter (because in California, no winter rain means... no rain at all!). The foul weather, combined with the fact that there is only one open riding space for 50+ people to share when it rains, plus the unbelievable craziness that has been trying to finish all of my classes, has meant that I haven't been out to ride nearly as much as usual in the past week.

Ringo doesn't get turnout when the weather turns bad either, so I always at least try to give him some round pen time to blow off a little steam after being stuck in his stall 24/7. Now, Ringo is normally almost suspiciously well-behaved when I lunge him; his old owner told me that he had had a larger than normal amount of natural horsemanship training as a youth, which I think contributes to the fact that he usually trots around, in a frame, and never sets so much as a toe out of line EVER when we're in the round pen.

So given that background, the following would, in Ringo's book, constitute WILD springtime behavior!

The dude is clearly feeling good =) Here are a few more clips of him trotting and cantering a bit later on once the steam has blown off (beware, excessive clucking to follow - he was weirded out by the camera and kept trying to stop and look at it):

I must say, I think he looks awesome! His neck has totally changed shape since I first got him (or especially when we came back from Gina's, which I think was an all-time low for his topline given how crappily I was riding him at the time). He's also in a pretty perfect weight for his lifestyle, and by far the fattest he's ever been while I've had him. He feels very happy and settled to be around, which I'm very proud of =)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Birthday Kiki!!

Kiki is 8 today!!

It's so hard to believe - I still remember meeting her for the first time as a four year old, getting to know her as a five year old, and going to our first show together on her sixth birthday. This is the second of her birthdays that I've been away from her for, which makes me pretty bummed, but I'm really happy to know that she's happy at home with my parents.

I've been feeling really anxious/eager/desperate to get back into eventing in the past few months, mostly because I've in many ways never felt so far away from the eventing world. When I was in England I wasn't riding, but I was going to shows and dreaming eagerly about getting back to Kiki and competing again.

Now, it's not so clear. I still don't know if Kiki is going to be my next event horse, but I've become determined to try again and see my relationship with her out to the end. It's hard for me to get over my deep, deep, deep love for her, that goes way beyond any rational considerations of her worth or athletic ability. In many ways, she's always been my perfect little dream pony: she's just the size, color, and temperament that I've always fantasized about.

I just can't overstate how much I love being around her in the barn: she's personable, sweet, intelligent, and kind. I'm really frustrated that I lose this side of her often when she's under saddle, and she becomes pissy or defensive. I feel like I've let her down training-wise, and haven't given her the tools she needs to be successful.

I've determined that when I get to start riding her again, I'm going to take as many steps back as necessary to get her back on the right track, even if it means going back to long-lining/groundwork/whatever it takes. I owe it to her to give her a great foundation of basics that she can take forward into her career, whatever that may end up being.

Kiki, I love you and miss you. Happy Birthday, Piglet.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Freestyle Clinic

Around Wednesday of last week, I got a rather unexpected phone call asking if I would participate in a musical freestyle clinic at Stanford (with the added bonus of only having to pay a fraction of the original cost). Though I haven't made a musical freestyle since I was 12 years old (when I made a sick Training level kur for Pony Club nationals using music from The Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack--not going to lie, it was boss) and don't really have any plans of doing one in the near future, I think the process of making a freestyle is both interesting and daunting without outside help, so I decided to give it a go.

(Ringo and I waiting to start)

The general layout of the weekend was, Day One: Select Music, and Day Two: Make Choreography. Cynthia from Luna Tunes, the person giving the clinic, had a simply massive store of music to choose from, organized by beats per minute and hooked up to a speaker so she could shuffle through while I rode and find what worked best.

(Cynthia sketches out some choreography)

I told her to start that I liked older folk/western music, and thought that might be a good match to go with Ringo's 'cow horse' coloring. Cynthia thought that was a great idea and promptly pulled out around a dozen songs that she shuffled through as I trotted around. It was really interesting to feel how some pieces 'clicked' better than others. I've heard many times that the horses pick the music and respond to some songs better than others, but had never really believed it until I could actually feel Ringo's relaxation and cadence change from song to song.


Remarkably, we found music for all three gaits really quickly (whereas in comparison another rider in the clinic spent all day Saturday and 80% of her time on Sunday trying to find the right music). The next step was choreography, and it was really interesting to hear Cynthia's insights. When I told her I was riding at 3rd level but would like a freestyle (if I was going to make one) that could work at either 3rd or 4th, she had some really interesting strategies to make a test that could be used identically for either level, including building in some places to add in things like pirouettes and tempis that can't be done at 3rd but are required at 4th.

(Good boy, Ray!)

I had never thought of being able to combine the two levels into one freestyle, and in a way it helped to clarify what exactly the differentiations and overlaps between the two levels are for me. It also gave me hope that 4th level maybe isn't too far away!

Ringo was a total champ all day, despite the fact that it probably wasn't the most interesting two hours of riding he had ever experienced, since most of the music selection was just spent trotting endlessly around the arena. He got tons of compliments (how could he not??) and I think enjoyed being more in the center of attention even than usual.

(Sharing a quiet moment at the end of the day - geez I love this horse)

The only sort of wakeup call of the weekend, which has been building for a while now, is that we have been running into some sketchiness in our changes recently. Namely, we can do single changes fine, but anything more quickly becomes a massive struggle. I think this is partially mental block on my part, but also partially some stiffness on Ringo's part as I'm asking him to step up the work (especially since his old owner told me explicitly that disunited changes are Ringo's calling card for hock stiffness). I've decided, as a result, to get his hocks injected for the first time in over two years in a few weeks. I fee pretty ambivalent about injections, honestly, but in this case feel pretty confident that it's the right choice. Hopefully that will having him feeling fit and feisty for Galway in just under three weeks!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Academic Interlude

So as I've mentioned from time to time, I am actually a full time Student at Stanford University (though from the horse-only content of my posts/the amount of time I spend obsessing over horses, I wouldn't blame anyone for forgetting it!). I am a senior this year, majoring in Art History and minoring in Military History--basically if it has the word history in it, I'm in. Most quarters I don't really have much interesting to write about, academically: I love learning and have really enjoyed my time at Stanford, but there's only so much one can say about art history lectures without getting real dull real fast.

(I've also been getting to take pictures in places like this... it's a tough life)

This quarter, however, has been an amazing one in terms of awesome hands-on experiences. For whatever reason, every class I took this term decided to have some sort of field trip to visit/oggle/touch some of the incredible things hidden away in the Stanford archives and museum.

In my English class on Shakespeare and Dickens, for example, I got to leaf through an actual copy of Shakespeare's First Folio, published in 1623. What?! Is this real life??! I also got to hold and flip through the original serial releases of Dickens' novels Bleak House and Little Dorrit, and marvel at the hilarious 19th century advertisements within.

In my photography class, I've gotten to view original stereoscopic images made of the West in the late nineteenth century, hold $750,000 Carleton Watkins prints, look through the original Eadweard Muybridge Animals in Motion book that was shot right at the Stanford barn (that was the first example of film fast enough to capture motion, and was the direct predecessor to motion pictures), and see the first photograph of a person ever made. Unbelievable.

(The very first photograph of a human being ever made, by Henry Fox-Talbot in the 1830s: it's super faint and so never gets put on permanent display)

(Muybridge's Animals in Motion)

(Imogene Cunningham's camera... which is also the same type as one of the cameras I use! Rolleiflex love)

($750,000 Carleton Watkins print! And sooo lovely)

(Watkins made his pictures using 20"x24" glass plate negatives (pre-film!) in the 1870s, and they are unbelievably, startlingly clear and beautiful)

Probably the coolest and most unique experience, however, took place on Tuesday, when the artist I am currently interning for got access to make a series of photograms of the Last Spike (also known as the Golden Spike), which was the final spike driven in by Leland Stanford that united the first transcontinental railroad.

This object is an invaluable piece of American history, and is usually locked tight under glass and heavy security in the university museum--it is, after all, also made of solid gold! It was amazing, then, to have it essentially to ourselves for the day (with just the curator present to handle it for us, as we were not allowed to touch it) while the artist made the photograms and I did assistant jobs like handling his paper for him.

(Our photogram set up for the day, with the Last Spike ready on the paper - obviously this picture is a bit misleading because I used the flash; in reality everything was happening in a darkroom-type setting with just a safelight and no other light sources)

I was not expecting to get to touch it at any point, so it was a real treat at the end of the day when the curator offered to let me hold it (on a bed of tissue paper, of course, so the oils from my hands couldn't mess it up). It was a surreal experience to get to hold something that is so precious and such a hallowed part of the American historical tradition. It was also, as one might expect from a solid gold object, surprisingly heavy!

("The Last Spike" inscription, and you can still see the dings where Leland Stanford hit it in!)

(It's also covered all over with beautiful cursive inscriptions naming the major railroad barons, the guy who forged the Last Spike, and a Manifest Destiny-type proclamation along the lines of 'May God continue to aid us in the quest of uniting this great land.' Classic.)

So yeah, it's been pretty awesome. I can't say that studying at Stanford is always this interesting... but there definitely are some major perks from time to time!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Last IDA Home Show

What. A. Weekend.

(Stanford Dressage after the show on Sunday, complete with our unofficial mascot--Ringo!)

Lying in bed this morning (enjoying my first chance to sleep in past 6:30 in over two months, and even then it was only until 7:45), I'm still having a hard time wrapping my mind around my feelings about the past 72 hours: certainly thrilled, proud, and gratified come to mind... but so do exhausted, nostalgic, and bittersweet. It's been a roller coaster. At the end of the day, though, the two big take aways are: I've now officially ridden in my very last collegiate horse show at Stanford, after four amazing years; and...


Wahoo! But more on that in a second. First, the horse show itself. After spending a solid 7 hours preparing for the horse show in the barn on Friday (mostly trying to manage the massive jigsaw puzzle that is sorting out all the tack, as we only own 6 dressage saddles for 18 horses normally, though we got 7 in on loan from Revere for the show), and then another 6 going through logistics of horse draw and time schedule that night, I was feeling pretty cooked on Saturday morning. But there was no rest for the weary, and we arrived promptly at 7am and got every single horse in the show braided--a Stanford IDA first!

(In hardcore show prep mode on Friday afternoon)

After that it was a whirlwind of prep, draw, and watching the warm up. I was pretty stressed out at this point, just from lack of sleep and wanting the show to go well, so I tried to remove myself for a little while to listen to some music, dance it out, and get in the zone. I would say it partially worked, though I still had some butterflies jumping around in my stomach when I got on a half hour later.

I drew a horse named Nike who I had only ridden once but really, really liked. Unfortunately he was feeling a little tense and had had a sort of sketchy warm up, with the end result that he was completely curled behind the vertical from the second I got on him. Crap. I tried every strategy I had to get him a little more poked out during warm up (hands low, hands really forward, gapping the reins a little bit, tugging upwards when he went really behind, etc), and nothing worked very well. I was pretty disappointed, as he was very fancy and I knew could produce a barn-burner of a test if he was going well. Unfortunately, I couldn't quite get it done.

(Nike cantering - also, the big upside of this show was that like 80 people took photos, so I have an unbelievable amount)

(Good boy pats at the end of the test)

(Checking myself out in the mirror... sorry I'm not sorry)

(Moments of not looking too curled under)

I went into the ring and rode a pretty darn accurate test, if I do say so myself, but I knew that he was often behind the vertical and that that would hurt my scores. Sure enough, I still scored well--69.3%--but was not good enough to win. My friend Jenny won with a really polished test on a different horse, and I ended up 2nd. I was a little disappointed, but knew that I'd done the best that I could. The only sting was getting a 6 on rider, with comments that I was cranking his head in, which was definitely NOT the case! Oh well, such are horse shows.

(grr behind the vertical)

(At least I got a decent medium trot! Eyes up, Erickson)

The rest of Saturday was spent scoring, which was a job I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, it meant that I only minimally got to watch everyone else on the team ride! From what I could sneak between punching away at my adding machine and gather from peeking at their score sheets, everyone rode very well. The big thrill of the day was my friend Patrick (the same one who took pictures of my Brian lesson), who got a 72% at Upper Training and ended up Reserve High Point Rider of the day! Wahoo!

Team-wise, we could not compete with Cal Poly, who had an awesome day and ended on a perfect team score for 1st place. We ended up 3rd, narrowly, behind UCSC. We were happy but definitely hungry to do better on Sunday!

And, do better we did. I was, and am, so unbelievably proud of how well everyone rode on Sunday. Michelle and Christy both had lifetime high scores, and every one of our team riders placed either first or second. It was a magical show.

(Me, Rachel, and Jackson)

I pulled Jackson, the horse that Jenny had won on the previous day. I'd only ridden Jackson once before, but he was amazing. Our test was one of the best tests I've ever ridden in my entire life, ever. Besides being a little sticky into the first canter (my fault), it was perfect. Our first medium trot was one of the best feeling mediums I've ever had, and got an 8.

(Stretchy circle - also an 8)

Turning up the final centerline, for the last time at home in my collegiate career, I started smiling and couldn't stop. I knew that I'd not only ridden my best, I'd also produced a great test that was going to be hard to beat.

I halted, saluted, and promptly burst into tears. I've never in my riding career, with perhaps the exception of the Galway CCI* with Dually, put so much pressure on myself to do well and then actually risen to the occasion. I was completely overwhelmed. I ended up winning by over a 3% margin from second place, with a 69.6%.

(And I finished on a square halt!)

(Last salute)

(big smiles, big pats - GOOD BOY, Jackson!!)

(Definitely crying)

Our team finished the day with a commanding win, which put us into a tie for first with Cal Poly for the regional championship. As the regional scorekeeper, it was my job to tally through the tie-breaker points with all the teams gathered around me watching. I was shaking like a leaf!

Unfortunately, Stanford lost in the tie-breaker by the narrowest of margins, making it the second year in a row where we've come within a hair's breadth of going to Nationals as a team. It was hard to be too disappointed, though, given that Sunday was hands down the best performance we'd ever put in as a team in the history of Stanford Dressage. As I am the only person graduating this year (and we have a great rider who will be taking my place), the future looks bright!

It feels pretty weird to finally, for the most part, be done. In my three years at IDA, I was only defeated three times, never placed below third, and scored above 68% all but twice. It's been an incredible ride, and it feels very bittersweet to have it come to an end. I really feel like IDA has made me into a stronger rider and competitor, and I know that every test I ride going forward will be better because of this experience.

The personal upside is that I qualified for Nationals individually, and so will be making the trek out to Centenary College in New Jersey at the end of April. This is a goal I've been working towards for three years now, and couldn't be more excited. New Jersey isn't going to know what hit it!!

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Biggest News of All

So of all of these most recent posts, this is probably the most exciting one, because it marks the beginning of what will be a big (and hopefully permanent!) life change for me after graduation. The day after graduation (literally), I will be packing my bags and moving to beautiful northern Virginia, with the horses following in the next few weeks. Why, you might ask? Well, I've secured an internship at a pretty tatty little horse publication; perhaps you've heard of it...

That's right. The Chronicle of the Horse. I'm so unbelievably excited that I get giddy just thinking about it. I have only secured a summer internship, but I'm really hoping that it will be the first step I need to get into the world of equine publication, which would be my dream career to exceed all others.

I'm going to be an editorial intern, meaning that I will write press releases and articles, take photographs, learn about online media, and generally do all the things the full time staff members do. As I will be working in the summer, the big events I'll (hopefully) get to help cover will be Pony Finals (eek!! The cuteness!!) and Young Riders (also awesome!).

I'm so incredibly thrilled at this opportunity and can't wait to immerse myself in the horse-centric Middleburg lifestyle. The internship is unpaid, so I will definitely be scrapping for as many horse-related side jobs as I can to stay afloat! We (my parents and I) have tentatively decided that Ringo will come down almost immediately, and then depending on whether it looks like I can settle into a more permanent lifestyle then Kiki will follow. That is certainly a big 'if,' but I feel like this is such a massive opportunity that I feel incredibly focused about making the most of it. Fingers crossed!

So in the meantime, I'm suddenly realizing that I'm down to my last few months in California. It's definitely bittersweet, but I'm both thankful for the time I've spent here and eagerly looking forward to the next adventure. And you never know, perhaps someday I'll be back. But until then... Virginia, here I come!!
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