Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lesson with Kim: Planning for the Season Ahead

First of all, thank you so much for all the wonderful comments on my last post! I'm sorry I've been quiet for a while since last writing; it's turned out to be quite a lot to process, and I've just been trying to let the reality of everything soak in. I'm still SO UNBELIEVABLY EXCITED!!

(Ringo and I in the epic sunrise we had a few days ago)

On the more bittersweet side, however, my acceptance to Oxford does mean that, come September, my time as a rider will come to a close (for now, at least). We've begun the process of starting to find new homes for Ringo, Ky, and Kiki, and while I'm very sad to have to be separated from my horses, I know that it's the right decision for this time in my life.

(Ringo and Audge loving on each other)

In my lesson with Kim, today, we started to pin down some real goals for the season now that we have the knowledge that it will be my last for a while. Together we came up with two viable goal options: either to qualify for the NEDA fall festival and championships at 4th level, or to try to debut at Prix St Georges at a smaller fall show and aim for as many scores for my USDF Silver Medal as possible.

Obviously, both paths have pros and cons: I've never qualified for a USDF championships before, and it would be fun and gratifying to compete at the NEDA festival, which is one of the biggest and most prestigious dressage shows on the east coast. However, with that prestige also comes the caveat that I would be putting a lot of emotional investment in probably one championship ride, against the best (and fanciest) horses and riders in the greater New England area (and while Ringo is a wonderful dressage partner, a massively fancy worldbeater ├╝ber-warmblood he is not). On the other hand, if I was going for a PSG debut, I could aim for a number of classes at a number of smaller, lower-pressure fall shows, giving me a higher chance of some good test experiences. Plus, I want to wear my shadbelly again!! The downside is obviously that PSG is the harder goal from a technical standpoint, and there are some big hurdles still in our way before we're ready for it (heck, there are a lot of days where I still feel green around the gills thinking about 4th level!).

In the end, Kim and I decided that, for now anyway (obviously with horses, to write a goal in stone is essentially to beg the universe to strike you down in a fiery bolt of karmic justice), the aim should be PSG. I'm very happy with this goal... but was quickly brought back to earth when we got down to work in the lesson itself. There's a lot of hard work between here and cantering down the centerline with that shadbelly on!

(The pretty sunrise sprucing up the otherwise currently dreary, muddy pastures)

Today I was quite pleased with the cadence and quality of Ringo's trot, which I feel like has really come a long way over the winter. Thanks to Kim, I've got a whole new understanding of what the upper level trot should feel like (a LOT slower and more connected than I'd thought!!). The next big hurdle is keeping the suppleness in the lateral work, where our tendency is to both get stiff and tense. Today Kim really had me focus on half-halting and then consciously releasing: my instinct when I put on an aid and feel Ringo get tense is to keep applying the aid until he relaxes... but instead, he just get tenser and tenser! So instead, I need to think of applying an aid and then being really generous in my release to encourage him to stay loose. When I did it in the half-pass today, the change was huge.

After trotting, we moved on to working on the canter pirouettes, which still loom large as the biggest hurdle facing us and moving up. Coming into this winter, Ringo barely had an acceptable 3rd level collected canter, let alone a collected canter of the quality to start making pirouettes out of. After about a million canter-walk-canter transitions (give or take a few) over the past 6 months we've come a long way, but we're still a little behind the curve compared to the levels we're aiming at.

Today we worked on a new pirouette exercise that was essentially a big diamond: going from A to B to C to E and back to A in canter, making regular shallow turns at E and B and working pirouettes at A and C. The first direction we worked on, we did great! Like, way above expectations! It was awesome to feel the work I've been putting in is paying off, where even a month ago we couldn't produce anything approaching something that could be considered a pirouette.

But then, to the right... the wheels sort of came off. I got a little tired, Ringo got a little tired, and the exercise was hard enough that we simply could not do it when we weren't firing on all cylinders. It was a big reminder of how difficult this hurdle is. To even contemplate showing, we need to be able to perform well even on significantly less than full energy and concentration (because let's face it; I'm no professional, and chances are low that we'll be at our absolute best in the ring!). And, this isn't even the full movement! We were probably just over a quarter pirouette, instead of the half pirouette that we'll eventually need. There's a LOT left to do.

But still, I'm really pleased. Ringo felt great, and I had a blast working on these new skills. I'm so lucky to have such a wonderful partner and friend :)

(Meanwhile, Kiki is getting geared up for Morven this weekend - looking good, Piggy!)

(Ky says 'don't forget about meeeeee!' Despite his absence from the blog of late, the little dude is doing great and I'm feeling like we're on the verge of a breakthrough)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dream and Remember

It's a wonder anybody [there] does anything but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all like an opera.
-William Yeats-

Sorry for my silence of late, but there have been some mighty changes afoot in my life. Well, actually there haven't been any changes yet, but until this morning I was waiting in a state of semi-paralyzed anxiety in my hopes to get the opportunity to have some mighty changes afoot in my life. 

Wait, what am I talking about? Well, this:

That's right, folks.


I applied to Oxford, the site of my junior year study abroad as an undergraduate, at what could only realistically be seen as the last possible second (think deciding-to-apply-2-weeks-before-the-last-round-deadline levels of last possible second). I did it largely as a test of my own commitment, and a challenge to myself to actually see an application through to the end (I had attempted to apply to American graduate schools several times through the fall and always trailed off to nothing after a few days of fervor), and applied in a field that seemed interesting but not like something that I had any reasonable chance of being accepted in (modern British history - a subject about which I know hilariously little as a French art history major and an American history minor). I wrote my personal statement largely about photography, and only tangentially tied my argument into history at the very end. I had no test scores and no relevant internship or job experience to bolster my resume. When the deadline came in early January, I sent it off with the grim certitude of a dead man. I felt sure that there was no chance I was getting in to one of the most famous and venerable universities in the world on qualifications as suspect as my own.

And yet, over the next few months, I allowed myself a brief daydream about Oxford every single day. Since I've experienced the university once before (albeit in the semi-outsider role of a two-term study abroad student, operating under the aegis of Stanford), the visions I had of myself as a real-life student there were painfully vivid: studying in the cool white window light of the RadCam, taking meals in the wood-paneled Harry Potter fantasy worlds that apparently pass for dining halls there, knocking back cellar-temp real British pints of Old Rosie under the low thatched roof of the Turf, playing croquet on the lawn of an impossibly perfect college quadrangle. 

(Just some casual Oxford loveliness)

Though I had applied on a lark, these dreams made me realize that I wanted it so badly that it physically hurt. I honestly felt like my chances were so slim, however, that I beat myself up every time I even allowed a thought of the future to pass through my mind. I told almost no one of my application, even my own parents, for fear of invoking a bizarre jinx upon myself. For two months, I waited, hoped, prayed, feared.

It was too much. Starting in mid-February, a full month and a half before the stated dates for decision emails to start winging their way towards prospective applicants, I began getting a deep rumple of discomfort every single time I checked my email (which, for the record, I do a lot). I was fairly certain I was going to develop a serious stomach ulcer at the rate I was going. I found the blogs of other Oxford students and read them with a jangling mix of envy, hope, and fatalism. All these people whose lives I read about seemed so amazing and brilliant; meanwhile, I couldn't name more than 4 British Prime ministers and was attempting to gain admission to the UK's most prestigious university in a program(me) in British History. I felt like the sham of shams. 

When the email came this morning (mercifully, two weeks earlier than I was expecting), my heart performed a series of calisthenics I'm not sure I've ever put it through before, screeching to a halt briefly before taking up an uncomfortable, adrenaline-pumping tattoo that oscillated sickeningly over the length of my entire body from my ears all the way to the tips of my toes. Shaking all over (was finding out about college this nerve-wracking??! I think I must have been more clueless about the importance of that situation), I dubiously clicked the document open.

No way. 

No. Freakin. Way.

I'm still in a state of shock. I spent all day at work, while alternatively begging a faulty freight elevator not to trap me between floors and lugging heavy boxes from one Boston gallery to another, in a deep fog. How could this be real? How could my life be real? 

What the *%$# had I just gotten myself into??!

There are an enormous amount of logistics to sort out between here and my matriculation in October, the cost of admission and the fate of the horses obviously vying for top spot as the biggest priorities and concerns. But those will have to wait for another day, because in the meantime, it's time to for one night of absolutely care-fee celebration!!! POP BOTTLES, BITCHES!!!

(Some bubbly and British beer to toast a successful application!)

Saturday, March 2, 2013


Last night marked a huge milestone. Because...


Cue the music:

This marks the end of a six-week ordeal that has easily been one of the more stressful horse-related episodes of my life. It feels like a lifetime ago that I was sitting upstairs reading in bed on a Sunday evening in January and my father came to me saying that Dually was sick.

Since then it's been an unbelievable roller coaster of emotions, from the absolute lowest low nights sitting in Dually's stall at Tufts and knowing that chances were not insignificant that it would be our last time together, to the ecstatic joy that was bringing him back home and seeing him munch hay in his own stall again.

(Big D coming home from Tufts in a wash of euphoria and relief)

For the past month, the roller coaster has transitioned into a psychological and physical slog: though mostly out of the woods, Dually still required round the clock medication of antibiotics to makes sure that everything in his system was truly under control. I took the middle of the night and middle of the day shifts, and that coupled with my early morning feeding schedule meant that I didn't sleep for longer than 4 hours continuously 5 or 6 days a week for weeks on end.

I'm feeling so, so blessed that Dually came through this all right. We still don't know the trigger that caused his infection, which is a little frustrating, but it pales in comparison to the wonderful sight of him enjoying winter sunshine in our medical paddock outside the kitchen window.

(Back home again, the Dude abides.)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Unexpected Swag

Today I got a very happy surprise in the mail:

SWAG, BABY. I registered Ringo last year with the Performance Horse Registry (which is the USEF's performance registry, and the only one I could find that was open to horses of unknown parentage), and it turns out that he and I were Champion at 3rd Level (Adult Amateur) and Reserve Champion at 4th Level (Adult Amateur) for Region 8. I must say that being Reserve Champion at 4th Level when I only showed at that level once got scores in the 50s feels... like a bit of a diminished accomplishment. But I'm not complaining about pretty ribbons, for sure!!

Now I'm even more impatient for the show season to begin :) Thanks for yet another beautiful gift, Ray!
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