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Spring Forward

10514499_10152422675337483_6845840039803449598_n“If you’re going to make a mistake, make it going forward.”  That’s the best piece of advice I have ever been given as a rider. Whatever pickle you may find yourself in on a horse, leg is usually the answer. I found myself in a slight predicament on cross-country at Virginia Horse Trials in the fall, when Pirate jumped boldly over a brush, landing with his eye on his B element on down the hill a bit, like he tends to do. Meanwhile, I managed to see absolutely nothing in terms of line, distance, etc. to the big corner, but as I find myself saying all the time, thank God for Auto-Pirate! Sure, I’m guilty of getting in his way often enough, but at least in this instance I managed to have the good sense to sit there with my leg on and let him sort it out. He did, of course, and galloped on to have the most beautiful round, finishing 2nd in the Open Intermediate – our best result to date at the level. Not a bad way to wrap up the comeback tour for the broken-necked wonder, eh?

That’s just it, though – I’m ready to close that chapter in our lives. We are no longer on the road to recovery; this is now the road to Advanced. He moved up to Intermediate at the end of his 7th year and ran well at the level as an 8-yr-old in 2011, but we managed to have a 3 year setback, with first a suspensory, then the neck, and finally getting our feet wet again this past year. Now that we have bounced back, I’m ready to do whatever I need to, to give this horse a fair chance. We’ve already been given a second chance, against all odds; to let that go to waste would become the biggest regret of my life. Horses like Pirate come along once in a lifetime, if you’re even lucky enough to have one like him at all. He gives me all he has, absolutely everything in him. And it’s time I do the same for him.

PirateFrancisFrancis Whittington was kind enough to leave the UK for a week in December to coach me and Pirate…okay okay, I set up a 5-day clinic, so that’s why he was really here. But I like to think he was just here to check up on his favorite American TB, ol’ Bub The Scrub (sorry P), as I consider Francis largely responsible for why I didn’t have to give up on him in the first place. The lessons were incredible, and we made some pretty serious progress; Pirate could, in fact, be a lot fancier than I’ve known how to create on my own. And that made me start thinking…what would happen, exactly, if we had more than just the hit-or-miss lesson a few times a year? What could we accomplish if we actually got in a program with someone, instead of kicking along on our own? Of course I’ve thought about this before – but reality was, if I didn’t stay in Charlotte and run a business, I simply couldn’t afford to compete, or take care of this horse in the way he deserves. I didn’t have the funds, and I had to find them somehow. I built a business to finance a career. For a while, the best thing I could do for Pirate was figure out a way to pay for the things he needs, and the events I wanted to run with him. But now…it’s time I become the rider he deserves. My heart’s always been it 100% with this horse; but everyone has to put their money where their mouth is, sooner or later. I guess I just had to make it, first. ;)

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When all your hopes and dreams rest on this one horse…you wish on whatever you can.

I always said I’d go off and train one day; it’s easy to put things off to “one day.” But if you aren’t careful, you’ll wake up one morning to discover that one day was yesterday, and your life has left you behind in the dust of the dreams you once had.

So when I sat down in January to plan out my year (as much as you can plan anything with horses), I realized Pirate and I are in the wrong place for what we’re trying to accomplish, at least for now. It’s time to pick up, and move up – to Middleburg, Virginia. It’s always held my heart, since the days of driving around the back roads with my Godmother, for whom I owe all of this – the love for the horses, the hunger for success in the equestrian world, the drive to live my life in a way that would make her proud. I’ve spent the years since I lost her trying to find her…but she was right where I left her, all along.

I have my incredible fall/winter to thank for putting me exactly where I needed to be to come this decision, and all who were in it for helping me see that I really can do this – I really can uproot my life to chase my dreams with this one exceptional horse.  Every moment of your life plays into the next, and it’s fun to trace back the seemingly insignificant decisions you’ve made and see how you’ve ended up where you are. But this year is all about moving forward. I have no idea what’s to happen next – but do we ever, really? Maybe the beauty in life is in the not knowing, the mystery to what our futures hold. All I do know is that if you’re standing still, you’re moving backwards…because the rest of the world carries on, with or without you. So, as the snow melts and the winter wraps up, we’re due north. It’s time to spring forward, and make sure not to fall back – into bad habits, old ways, whatever it is that paralyzes us. Everyone has to make the jump sometime in their life – whether you’re like Pirate, hungry for it, or a little bit frightened by the unknown. Just remember:  Only the things that scare you, hold the ability to thrill you…if you’re wired like I am, anyway. So just kick on and keep the faith in whatever grand adventure your life will become…and whatever you do – don’t ever look back.

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The Alternate Route

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, the course walk. The first time out, we are generally just there to figure out where we’re going, and perhaps question our sanity (“Why? Why would anyone gallop a horse up to something like this and jump over it? I need help…”). The next walk round, we have come to terms with our questionable mental state and are there to make plans, decide the smartest way to get from Point A to Point B that still manages to keep our horse between the red and white flags, not to mention our legs. We are taught throughout our lives that shortcuts don’t generally get us what we want in the end, but in a sport that’s a bit of a race against the clock, where every extra stride is just one more impact on our horses’ delicate legs, sometimes they really do make sense. So, angle this one, jump the side of that one, and your line’s better to the next, you’ll save a few strides, a few seconds – all pretty simple, logical stuff, no rocket science here. And then, oh God help us all, there’s the black flag option. The course designer has given us an actual choice of which route to take, over just the standard “off to the left or right a bit”, and now this means we’re being forced to use our brains (didn’t we turn them off when making this our sport of choice?) and weigh our options. The direct route is usually rather big and challenging, the option a bit smaller and softer but will cost you loads of time and extra galloping. Sometimes we’re on a green young thing and “the option” is the best route to take…but, as a rule, we all set out to attain that elusive double clear when we leave the start box, don’t we? The option may be a safer bet, but if we didn’t believe our horse could handle the direct route, we wouldn’t be there. So, typically, we plan for the direct route, walk our option just in case, and see what we’ve got underneath us on the day.

I have done both, really. I’ve planned to play it safe and gotten out there to discover my game Pirate has lined up his fences before I have, and on through the tough route we go, no questions asked. I’ve also jumped into a line, realized we had it all wrong, and had to make the very quick decision to take the option. Eventing is all about thinking on your feet. The indecisive will quickly end up on the ground; split second decisions must be made, and they had better be the right ones.

I think that’s life, though, isn’t it? You can plan and prepare and have it all laid out just so, and suddenly you are like the coyote in Looney Toons and you’ve run off the edge of a cliff to discover nothing but air underneath your feet. No one is immune to the sudden, unexpected change that will sometimes be upon you. Life will alter its course without your permission, and I’ve had my share of it over the years, horses and otherwise. Once upon a time, I spent years of my life with someone I was certain I’d have forever, and all in a flash discovered they had been living a whole other life on the side. Call it only child syndrome, but I don’t share well; so it was easy enough, in the initial hurt, anger, and shock, to leave. Pull the right rein hard and take the option, INDEED. But walking away – really and truly, once and for all – was much harder to do. Yes, his morals slipped, his insecurities finally failed him; but my God did I love that man.

Even after the best cross-country round, the adrenaline wears off eventually, and as you come down off your high, little things begin to bug you. There’s always the line you could have ridden better, the fence where your horse saved you, at times even pure luck getting you through a combination. Suddenly, you see “perfection” isn’t always so perfect. And on the rounds where you know it’s gone all wrong, you can blame the horse for the refusal, the run-out, the fall; but the horseman looks inward and realizes that they simply failed to see what was coming in time to make it right. It can eat away at you, rattle your confidence, make you question every last thing you’ve done; but then again, that’s what sets you above, isn’t it? That constant desire to improve yourself as a rider, a horseman – do better, be better – even when the score sheet reads double clear. When it doesn’t, you must discover how to right it; learn from, but not fixate on, your mistakes. You must still find the good, find the best parts to focus on going into the next. Both exist in every ride; it’s never all good or all bad. It’s up to us to learn how to see it all, learn how to handle the best without getting over-confident and the worst without falling apart. To dwell on the bad will breed more of it, and it will ruin you from the inside out.

This autumn has seemed to be nothing but one change of plans atop the other, but I’ve loved every minute of it. Okay, not every minute. Pirate’s heel grab was bad enough not only to scare me to death (oh, the amount of blood that can escape a horse’s body in a short period of time….), but to knock us out of our first couple of events of the season. After handily winning a Prelim in August just to get out and about for the first time since May, we had to skip Five Points and Poplar, therefore foiling our plans to jump around the CIC** at Morven Park (none of our events from 2011 apply as qualifiers, and we only ran one Intermediate in Pirate’s comeback tour of the spring). But I have learned nothing if not to be adaptable over the last couple of years, and as I coached a student on my lovely young horse Geno at Five Points, I came up with a new plan – a better plan. To run Intermediate at both Surefire and Morven Park, staying the week between for a full ten days in my beloved Northern Virginia. Oh, what those Virginia hills would do for us! If they can’t right us, strengthen us, inspire us, nothing can. So, after coaching a huge group of students at Tryon (and finishing second on a lovely little pony recently put in training with me), Pirate and I packed our bags and headed north.

The morning of Surefire dawned warmer than usual for late September, and Pirate was more relaxed, happy, and obedient than he’s ever felt in dressage. Our score fell short of expectation (still respectable, but not quite on par with what I’d thought), but it was the most accurate test we’ve ever had, and I grinned ear to ear throughout the entire thing. Apparently, I had that goofy smile in all of warm-up, as someone asked how I could possibly be so happy doing dressage. “I’m just so happy to be here on this horse,” I said. Truer words were never spoken. Everything is right in my world when I’m on Pirate. Everything is right in my world when I’m anywhere at all with him, really.

Our stadium round was probably the prettiest we’ve ever had. Relaxed, confident, jumping beautifully. I wish we’d had a bit more time to celebrate my perfect boy’s round, but in the rush of the one-day format, it was mostly just pats and praise on the way to the start box. Out of it, he was spot on at almost every fence…and then, I rode him completely backward to one of the biggest fences on the course. I guess it had been too long since I’d had anything sizable in front of me on cross-country, and I froze in the phase that is normally my strongest. Thank God for Auto-Pirate, there to save the day as always. He is much too good to me, such a better horse than I deserve. But somehow, I’ve ended up with him anyway, and he gave me a fantastic round, so forgiving of my mistake. He’s more honest than anyone, horse or human, I’ve ever met. Though Pirate loves water and it’s normally a strong point on course for us, he’d never before seen a bounce into water, so it backed him off and we were sticky there, though of course my boy didn’t think of stopping. We landed in a bit of a heap, though, no forward momentum and just not enough space to get it in time for a safe jump over the big, exceptionally narrow skinny at the C element. So, quick change of plans, on to the option. It took us ages to circle back around to it, but no matter. We went slow after that, saving him for Morven, and he popped over the big ditch and wall, the giant table, and several combinations (angled hedge to narrow triple brush, keyhole to big corner), like they were pony club fences. The score sheet may not technically be impressive from that round, but boy was I happy with my Pirate!

The week leading up to Morven could not have been more perfect. We stayed at the beautiful Hedgeland Farm in Waterford and spent every day galloping up and down steep hills, trotting along the vineyards, and cantering down grassy lanes surrounding neighboring farms. Always my soundtrack of The Beatles playing, and always imagining it was the English countryside we were exploring on those misty grey mornings. I was on him an hour and a half each day, and we were always a bit sad to finally turn towards home; Pirate loved our adventures. He’s always so game. When I wasn’t on him, I was hanging out with him. It’s easy to get lost in the rush of barn work, rides, and lessons back home. But there, it was just us, sun-up to sun-down.  It’s you and me, Pirate. Always you and me.

Soon, though, we had a bit of company, in the form of my three trusty grooms, who are really my mom and two students/friends. Momma Briggs, Brittany, and Emily drove up for Morven, and Pirate didn’t mind being fussed over by all four of us, not one bit. By the next morning’s dressage test, he was feeling quite important, as he should. And he trotted in there to put in the best test we’ve ever had, with an impressive score to put us right up with the leaders. His medium trot took my breath away, and I was just over the moon coming out of the ring. It’s funny how a week of nothing but galloping around like a couple of kids can lead into the best dressage test you’ve ever had. Maybe that should tell us all something…

Kelsey Briggs Eventing team the morning of Morven Park

Alas, the high was not meant to stay for long. The slick stadium course walked like something out of the twilight zone, with backwards turns and distances that just didn’t add up. Still, you can’t blame the course. Pirate didn’t feel like himself in warm-up, and it wasn’t any better on course. We’ve had our share of rails in the past, most of which I can either blame myself or Pirate’s cheekiness for, but this time, we just missed – BAD – at two fences, both big oxers. The second one was the in of a double, and though he was locked on and going to try to jump the out, I quickly pulled him out of the line to avoid another crash. While they reset the fence, I patted my Pirate, who knew things weren’t going well. And God love him, he was an angel the rest of the way through, so quiet, so careful. He got as much praise as if he’d jumped clear. But walking back to the trailer, he just wasn’t right. Not physically, but in his mind. I’ve never seen that look in his eye – not afraid, just looking at me sort of sideways with big eyes, ears only tentatively up, as if he was saying, “Momma? You’re not mad, are you? I know I messed up but I tried hard, Momma!!” Jesus, it broke my heart. He’s always seemed so confident, always responded to pats and praise with a little bounce to his step. But he’s a smart boy, and he knew this time was different. My sweet wonderful Pirate. I couldn’t bear seeing him look disappointed in himself.

That, coupled with heavy overnight rain and two big divisions to run before him, made my decision not to run xc very easy. The course suited him, and he probably would have gone out there and jumped clean. But, for what purpose? Another pounding on those lovely strong legs, asking him to jump out of deep footing just for the glory of completion? Better a horseman than a hero. So I took him back to Hedgeland, and the morning of cross-country did what I knew would set him right – galloped our favorite hills and continued our exploration of the countryside. He was balanced, strong, fit – and most of all, happy. He had a blast, as I knew he would. Who cares we missed cross-country; we found a fence or two to jump that morning, and he dragged me to them.  That’s my Pirate. Even a clean round at Morven, which I’m sure would have made him very happy with himself, would have meant plenty of ice on his legs, a few days off, a slightly tired horse from his efforts out of deep footing. But this way meant no real strain to his body, no proper risk. My mind was on his confidence, already thinking of our next outing. Sometimes you have to go for it, and others you’ve got to think about the future rather than immediate glory; and Pirate and I have our eye on a stint in the UK in 2016. Say what you will about this goal. It may seem lofty, and it may seem pointless. There are surely more deserving pairs out there. But I don’t care. It’s what I’ve wanted to do for nearly all of my life. If Pirate’s game, so am I. I can’t imagine being there with anyone else.

Virginia hills or English countryside, it will be you and me, Pirate.

In the meantime, we have plenty to keep us busy this fall. Apart from Virginia Horse Trials to prepare for, we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Francis Whittington, who will be here for a week in early December to teach out of my farm – several days of private lessons and also a clinic, part of which will take place at the fabulous Gibbes Farm in SC. I believe I was more excited to buy his plane ticket than I was to send off any of my entries this fall. For Francis, who so saved the day for us back in Jan 2013 when P broke his neck, to actually see my miracle horse work, to sit on him and coach us and help us towards our goal of competing in the UK in a few years…it will be magic, I’m sure.

I may have to keep Pirate in bubblewrap before he comes over – only the one more event on the schedule in this abbreviated fall season of ours – but thankfully I have something else to keep me busy. I’ve had a lovely little mare in training with me since May who was initially supposed to be conditioned by me and then sent down to Camden for proper race training, as her owner, who owns a few racehorses, has always wanted to see her steeplechase. I told him from the start I’m no racehorse trainer…but as the summer turned into fall, he just didn’t want to send her away. He wanted her to stay with me, but still race over the hurdles. His faith in me and my program, not to mention his little mare, finally convinced me to get my trainer’s license with the National Steeplechase Association. I have a good friend in this world who has been a mentor to me for years, so I’m lucky not to be entirely on my own in this venture. So, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but off to the races we go this fall!

Yes, this autumn has been one of quick decisions and ever-evolving plans. So far, I haven’t a single regret. I take away from my 10 days in Virginia a sound, happy horse, who galloped better than ever all week, put in two fabulous dressage tests, and jumped beautifully more fences than he didn’t. I walk away from an old relationship feeling grateful to my past love, for even if he broke my heart in the end, he’s the one who made it whole to begin with. And mostly, I step forward with plans I realize fully will be broken or changed a million times, but will turn out right in the end, so long as I learn to love whatever my reality becomes – or change it if I don’t. It may not be what you’ve planned… but embrace the alternate route

.All professional photos © Jamey Price Photography.

Trust Your Eye

Pirate running Intermediate at The Fork, April 2014

There are no words to adequately express how I feel about Pirate’s comeback. It wasn’t just a second chance; it was God giving me my life back, against all odds. I love my family and friends fiercely, but Pirate is my world. That horse is the love of my life, and he represents everything I ever wanted as a child, whilst getting run off with on my pony in a family friend’s back yard, traveling the Northern Virginia countryside with my Godmother, or simply dreaming at night of the day it would be my name they’re announcing at Badminton. (We may not be there, but what’s a dream worth if you don’t say it aloud?). The whole time, it was Pirate I wanted…even before he existed. I wanted my fearless Laddy Pony on stilts, a big version of the indestructible pony that is my childhood and became my introduction to the sport that defines me. The horse with a heart of gold, who could and would jump anything for me, who would put up with the most atrocious riding out of me on some days and love me anyway…just the horse who would love me anyway, really. I can do no wrong to him, and he is the brightest part of my day, every day. That horse comes to work every day with the biggest smile on his face, so happy to face whatever challenges await, from a dressage school to a hack to a cross-country course. He loves his life. I love my life with him, my big fearless upper level horse who carries me through more than he’ll ever know. And God gave that back to us, when He answered my prayers, and rewarded my faith that it wasn’t just over, wouldn’t be taken from us like that.

I know what people told me, what people saw. They saw a horse with a broken neck and a girl who refused to let go of her future. Pirate was supposed to be done, and it would have been easy to accept. This was no minor injury. This wasn’t a little crack in the neck; this one was bad. He shouldn’t have ever been rideable again. But, after the initial shock wore off, I simply decided not to accept this fate.

Life doesn’t always work this way. But sometimes - sometimes – you can choose what you will and won’t see, believe, and accept. It can come back to bite you if things don’t go the way you want. But what if I had simply given up on this horse? Where would he be? Where would I be? I don’t want to know. All I know is that I want no part of a life without hope. And one step beyond it, faith. In something, anyway. You have to believe in something. It’s different for everyone. I chose to believe in this horse.

There is a great Jim Carrey quote; “Hope walks through the fire, and faith leaps over it.”  One you wish for.  The other you believe in.  You can hope it happens, or you can believe that it will.  One inspires you, but the other empowers you. You get to decide how you will play with the fire.  Pirate leaps over everything, doesn’t he; so why not this?  We’re not often so lucky in life as to will something to be the way we want it, against all odds.  I was this lucky.  I will not forget it.

I trusted not what I heard, but what I saw. I saw a horse who wouldn’t give up, either; a horse who could barely move at first ask to be let out of his stall for a walk, please, just let me try. A horse who knew he was hurt, but tried to trot around his paddock anyway…until one day, he could. He watched the trailer being loaded; until the day he was on it again. I watched the horse who would never move normally again gallop around his field. And then, one day, I watched the world through his ears again; a view I was always supposed to have. I saw a cross-country course unfold in front of us, and it wasn’t a dream. I saw the fences get bigger as we moved back up through the levels over the early spring months. And I saw our line, our stride, our distance, better than ever before. Because finally – finally – I trusted my eye.

The horse who was never supposed to be ridden again tackles Intermediate at The Fork 6 weeks into his comeback tour.

Our first event back was set for Valentine’s Day weekend, and there could not have been more standing in our way to get down to Paradise HT. A freak ice/snow storm in Charlotte led to my truck getting hit by a tow truck, zero riding in the lead-up to the event (half the snowy ground, the other a bad case of pneumonia that was supposed to keep me off the horses and in a hospital bed – as if I would miss P’s first event after all this, you kiddin’?), and a trailer completely stuck in a heck of a lot more ice and snow than we are used to around here.

Thank goodness for an indestructible truck, ponies being good sports, and an awesome neighbor/friend with a tractor, because somehow, we hit the road to Aiken before dark…driving down to a little town frozen in ice itself, and without power. An earthquake even hit overnight. But, after all he’d been through, I’ll be damned if any of this would stop Pirate from trotting down centerline the next day, and running off with me in stadium. He was so happy to be back. The next day’s cross-country course goes down as one of the most emotional experiences of my life.

We were struck with bad weather and footing at the next few events, but Pirate continued to feel better than ever on course. He was brilliant, plain and simple.  I was fortunate enough to have Eventing Nation continue their interest in us throughout our season, and after a string of great Prelim cross-country runs, well, why not move back to Intermediate at The Fork? Pirate gave me every reason to believe he was ready. And he was. He was just…incredible. Take a look at him cruising over Fence 3 on course if you don’t believe me that it was effortless for him.  That might have been the second most emotional day of my year.  Share in my joy here on the helmet cam…even if it sounds like terror at Fence 2.  ;)

From there, we had a little break, and then went up to the Virginia CCI*. Of course, Pirate skipped around the course like it was absolutely nothing, cruising in 30 seconds under optimum time (8 min), barely blowing, to post a double clear.  (Join us on the ride here; it is truly a beautiful track, and the helmet camera is worth watching just for the view!).  We just missed the top ten in our huge division thanks to 2 silly rails on a course that was demolishing others, but P walked away feeling like the star that he is, and that’s all that matters. I drove home with my mother and two dear friends giggling like a schoolgirl for the impossible season we had just wrapped up…and so very ready to see what the world will reveal to me next.

Nothing in life is more than our perception of it, really; no one really knows what we are seeing, and what we are missing. We only see what we want, or what we can. All you can do is trust your eye, and believe in what you see. Gallop down to your fence knowing the distance will come to you, but don’t stare it down too hard or you’ll interfere. Your eye alone can sometimes be wrong, but the moment you doubt it, your horse will lose confidence in you. Don’t forget, your horse knows more than you do; I’ve always found that thought comforting, that I have someone working with me who knows more than I. You’ll feel it, if you’ve got it right or if you haven’t. You’ll just know. You can trust what you see only so far, but you can believe in whatever feeling it stirs in you almost always.

So yes, trust your eye – but also your instincts; for they become your fate.

 Huge thanks to our entire support team in this process.  There are too many names to list, but shout-outs as always to Francis Whittington for giving us hope when all was lost; Ian Thirkell at ArcEquine for his generosity and support; our amazing vet and farrier team (Ansel Bussinah, Dr. Travis Blackwelder, Dr. Alexis Sage, Dr. Sarah Feathers); Pirate’s grooms and my dear friends, Brittany Bertrand Vuong and Emily Gray; his biggest fan (and forever “Head Groom”) Momma Colleen Briggs; my incredible family and friends, who got me through the best and worst of it all; and last but not least, Jamey Price, for the photos – and so much more.

Nothing Short of Thankful

There is nothing like a hack in the autumn. To much of the population, it’s hot cider, sweaters, and all things pumpkin that signify the start of fall, but to me, it’s the sound of leaves crunching under my horse’s hooves, seeing his breath that first chilly morning of the season. And this year, on that first perfect hack of fall, with yellow leaves swirling around me and my favorite album (The Avett Brothers’ “Mignonette”) playing on my phone, I still couldn’t quite believe that it was Pirate’s ears I was looking through once more. I am more grateful than I know how to express. I have always been in love with that horse, always known how lucky I am to have him. But now, every day that I am on him feels like the best day of my life.
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Keep the Faith

Pirate has a huge fan club around the barn; he is the world’s best babysitter.

It is surreal the way a moment can change a life. It just doesn’t seem possible. You take your beloved horse on a hack up the road one afternoon, and suddenly it’s his last. In an instant, your world is turned upside down, and you walk through the days as if they, or even you, aren’t real. All you want is to wake up from the dream, or perhaps to stay in that state between sleep and awake before you remember what’s happened, and what you’ll have to face. Your reality can break your heart…and you start to wonder if it will break you. Read More »

That’s A Wrap

I am “that girl” during Christmastime – you know, the one annoyingly obsessed with the holiday, who insists on wearing red & green and buying a tree as soon as the calender switches to December. The second a local radio station I never otherwise listen to switches over to 24/7 Christmas music, it’s all I have on in the barn. Students got in the spirit by decorating the barn for me one morning, and each horse had a glittery little stocking. I even made time for something other than horses and actually went SHOPPING a few times during the holiday season. Now, of course I procrastinated, and still found myself wrapping presents at approximately 11:59pm on Christmas Eve, but my heart is always in the right place. I think I do it on purpose, actually, just trying to make the holiday last. It’s the days before Christmas itself I always like best; the excitement, the anticipation, the magic quality of the holiday that can make us all children again and kind of want to put sugar cookies and milk out for Santa, even though you’re 24. There’s all the build-up, a wonderful couple of days with family, a million candy canes being passed around to the all the horses, and then BAM. Over. Done. And I’m always a little bummed out…even if I do end up with new toys to play with. Read More »

Jump To It

Sometimes, I feel remarkably motivated to sit down and write a blog. Then, after a couple of lines, I realize it’s a beautiful morning, and I really can’t stand another moment in the house. This happens during the spring and fall more often than any other time of the year, when I have lots of exciting things going on to write about, but beautiful weather (and all these exciting things) keeping me from it.

Since my last blog, our weekends have consisted of Jumper shows, cross-country schoolings, and of course, horse trials! Most recently (and notably), all three horses I took to Windridge Horse Trials won their divisions! I felt like a Hunter/Jumper (or maybe just Phillip Dutton) bringing home THREE blue ribbons, I have to say…but of course, only one was for me to keep, as one went to the Hamiltons for their lovely “Malibu Will,” who won on his dressage score of 31.0, and another went to Kathy Ashrafi, who was unfortunately in the hospital and could not attend to see her little Appy win her second attempt at Novice level! Jaz had a lovely dressage test and put in the calmest show-jump and cross-country rounds of her career to date, and I’m so proud of the little mare, as was her momma. The third blue went to MY little mare, Gracie (now “Three Days Grace”), the super cool Jumper who came to me in August and has now won her first event on her dressage score of 31.4, thank you very much, with several 8s on her test. (By the way, I may have been just as excited to get an 8 on riding on all 3 of my tests as I was to have had all 3 of them win, mostly because it’s much easier to score that on The Pirate than it is on The Greenies…small victory dance, not gonna lie, before I remembered the highest level I rode all weekend was Novice). Read More »

Patience Pays

I’m fairly certain that, as Pirate watched every other horse BUT him load up onto the trailer at some point over the spring and summer, he was starting to lose his patience. Yes, he was ridden every day, but it was never more than a hack and a light trot-set, and this isn’t REAL riding at all…not for Pirate, at least.  This boredom led first to him being “the fat kid,” who walks along at a snail’s pace trying to eat grass, leaves, weeds, etc. the entire time, looking for food to fill the void in his life generally filled by exciting things like cross-country; and later, “the bad kid,” the one who so desires to be the center of attention that they will do anything, anything, to get it.  In Pirate’s case, this involved spooking violently at the same exactly set of mailboxes every single day, often throwing himself in front of moving cars to do so, and also being terrified of the photo of himself jumping a ditch & brush at The Fork that makes up part of our sign at the end of the driveway.  One can only expect a horse with Pirate’s wiring to wait patiently for his turn for so long before he just starts to lose it a bit. Read More »

Flirting With Danger

If life itself is a game of chance, this sport make us all stellar players.  What better example of risk and reward than, say, galloping a horse at speed to a solid fence and making it safely to the other side?  There are about a million things that could go wrong, and about as many that you darn well better be doing right, but there are also factors out of our control…that’s the scary part to some, but to others, that’s what makes it exhilirating.  I suppose for most, it is such because it’s a little scary.  But either way, we’re all out there doing it, and no matter if you’re jumping around a 4-star or running your first Novice, the thrill of crossing through the finish flags makes you come back for more. Read More »

November Blue

Rachel prepping for a bit of foxhunting this fall!

I’m convinced the sky is never quite as blue as it is in November. There’s just this brilliant quality to it, one you don’t quite see in the South’s hazy summers. It makes me wonder if The Avett Brothers (my favorite band for the past 7+ years since I met them at The Fork HT back in early ‘04 – and now look, my friends are all famous!) were thinking along those lines when they named an old song of theirs “November Blue”….possible, but it’s more likely that the guys were just singin’ the blues.

Come on, we can all relate to that, right? Okay, so maybe I can’t personally relate to a girl breaking my heart (such good fodder for a song, apparently), but I do know the general “if only things were different” feel of the song. I’ll pull a line from it: “November shadows shade November change; November spells sweet memory, the season blue remains.” If we’re going to talk “sweet memory,” I’ll jump back to this time last year, when I was walking on air over Pirate’s success in our first Intermediate, finishing 4th at Rocking Horse HT down in Florida. And if you want to talk change, this year poor Baby P is hanging out at home doing…well…a whole lotta nothin’. Let me tell you now that he is NOT a fan of this.

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No White After AEC’s…

Dressage warmup at Middleburg HT. © Jamey Price

There’s something about that week in mid-September that signifies the end of summer for me.  It’s always felt as if I leave summer behind when I head to the American Eventing Championships, that during that week the seasons change and I come home to autumn.  Yes, there’s the obvious – temperatures begin to fall, days begin to shorten, light begins to lose its hazy summer filter – but it’s more of a, “Yeah guys, this fall season is ON!!!” attitude for me.  I had big plans for this fall in particular, plans that included letters like “FEI” and “CCI”.  But oh, horses…how they remind you it is so rarely up to us!  The word “plan” shouldn’t be used with horses, because plans – like rules – are made to be broken.

We’ll get back to “broken” in a moment, though.  First I’d like to chat a bit about AECs.  From the second we set foot at Chatt Hills and went on an evening walk, P’s eye was off in the distance, looking at cross-country.  He wasn’t interested in the grass, or the other horses, or even his momma (sorry I’m so boring, P!)…he knew he was there for a purpose, and it was as if he was drawn to the course.  He studied it from afar, and after a moment he took in a deep breath like, “Mom, I’ve got it.  Now let’s hurry up and get there because I am READY!” The following morning’s dressage wasn’t up to our usual standard, but I’ll chalk that up to my boy not feeling much like playing in the sandbox.  He was much more interested in the playground, thank you very much.  Cross-country morning dawned sunny and cool-ish, and even on the hack over Pirate felt fantastic.  He’s never felt better than he did in warm-up, and by the time we made it to the start box, I had lost most of my jitters because I KNEW the horse underneath me could handle everything out there.  As usual, he bounced up and down on the “3, 2, 1″ and was out of the box like a rocket on “Go!”

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Nothin’ Lasts Forever But Old Fords…

The infamous Laddy Pony jumping "Dutch's Ditch" at his second AEC, Sep. 2005 – Shannon Brinkman photo

C’mon, you guys know that line out of an old Willie Nelson song, right?  “Nothing lasts forever but old Fords, and a natural stone…”  Well, I have no diamonds to talk about, unless you count the rhinestones on Pirate’s fancy dressage browband made by Momma Briggs, but I DO have an old Ford F350 whose odometer currently sits at about 312,000 miles, and I would very much like to think that it’ll last forever.
That truck and I have been through a lot together – the good, the bad, and the…scary  Together, we have seen Ocala, Florida, where Pirate and I won our long format three-day in April 2009 (and later, in November 2010, finished 4th in our first Intermediate); on up to Chester County, Pennsylvania, where I finally got the chance to train with my idol, Bruce Davidson; and in between, so many trips to Aiken, Southern Pines, Georgia, Virginia, etc. that I’ve lost count.

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Girls Rule, Boys Drool…

Oh the ladies are totally dominating at the barn right now.

Yes yes, you’ll get the recap of River Glen in a minute…but first I have to brag on the mares a bit.  Rachel (Mind Over Matter), my lovely bay OTTB mare (a.k.a. Pirate’s girlfriend), won her first little Novice CT over the weekend, and totally owned it by finishing on her dressage score of 25.0 with a test full of 8s.  I’ll say, for a “little Novice CT,” the stadium course had it’s tricky moments with a very spooky double of rolltops that loads of horses wanted to stop and have another look (or 2 or 3) at…but not my Rachie girl!  She’s such a fancy thing, and super sweet, and I’m really looking forward to competing her this fall.  It was also a first outing for Becca Macanas’ “Delilah,” and what do you know…she also won her division of the CT!  She was quiet and settled in the dressage and didn’t look at a thing…not even those horse-eating rolltops.

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I Remember MY First Cross-rail….

Let’s face it: “I remember MY first cross-rail…” is the “I remember MY first beer…” of the event world.  It is generally saved for a joking insult to a friend when they have one of THOSE jumps, or a way to tell a student to clean up their act when they look like an untrained monkey in warm-up.  But this time, I am truthfully reminded of those first few awkward jumps we all took for a number of reasons…not all related to my inability to look for a fence at the start of my jump lesson yesterday.  (Hey, just getting this out of the way before my event this weekend, okay?).

First of all, there have been some literal first cross-rails around the farm with the morning pony camps my mom has run out of my farm for a few weeks this summer.  While mornings are busy for me with all the rides and farm work, they are generally quiet, but these camp weeks were full of cute little kids running around learning how to jump, or post, or simply lead a pony from Point A to Point B.  Pirate was, and still is, convinced that these little mini-riders are there solely to entertain and love on him.  He’s highly offended if anyone else gets attention and thinks it is SO unfair that fat little ponies get to trot through the sprinkler while he has to school his simple changes.

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Pirate could fake a British accent, right?

Do you know one of my favorite things to do on a rainy morning? Fix a cup of English Breakfast tea, pop in a Badminton Horse Trials video from the ‘90s (VHS, obviously), and then go gallop my horse in the rain and pretend I’m British.

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The Fork, and all other Utensils.

Going into The Fork, I asked Pirate to please use his very best manners as this was a formal affair, one for the fine china. This would not be the time, for instance, to scream for a mare in the dressage judge’s face, or use ugly language in the stadium arena (oh wait, that’s me). It would seem that he listened to me, because P really brought it all to the table last weekend.

We’ll talk about tables in a minute, though. Dressage for our division of Intermediate was Friday morning, and P had a nice long hack to the grass arena to really stretch over his back and begin to settle. He always gets a little lit up when he trots up centerline, but he was pretty obedient for most of the test. Neither shoulder-in was very good, and he was against the hand in the simple changes (he’s starting to really anticipate those, perhaps I should rethink how we school them), but the medium work was nice and the test was all around good enough for a 37.6, our best score to date at this level. It put us middle of the pack in a field of some very nice horses (ridden by very good riders), so I was really pleased. There is still much room for improvement, of course, but isn’t there always?!

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April Fools

Editors Note: Jamey apologizes for the late posting of this blog. I have other things to do than work for my girlfriend…..for free ;)

Pirate is convinced I played an April Fools’ prank on him last weekend.

First of all, I know he thought I was kidding when I rolled into the barn at 4 AM* to feed him his breakfast and throw him and Phaye on the trailer. (*Correction: My devoted student Ashley Hall rolled into the barn at 4 AM, beating her trainer there by a few minutes. Yeah yeah, I’m on time when it counts, okay?!). We hit the road to Tryon at an obscene hour of the morning that, because we are horse people, didn’t really seem all that bad. Sorry for the early wake-up call, kid, we’re trotting up centerline at 8 AM!

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Spring Time Allergies

If Pirate had it his way, he would have me believe he’s allergic to dressage.

Now it isn’t that he’s bad on the flat – not at all! In fact, I think he’s rather fancy for a $600 Thoroughbred I found at the track as a 3-yr-old in ‘06. (Back then he wasn’t The Gentleman Pirate – he was Bub The Scrub. So it was NOT his fault the record of his last races reads “Early speed, stopped,” because they doomed him for failure with a name like Bub The Scrub). And he certainly doesn’t hate the dressage, especially now that he’s a Big Intermediate Horse, and its all a lot more exciting in our test with all that fancy sideways stuff and several opportunities to show what a big impressive stride he has. No…it isn’t difficulty, dislike, or lack of ability that sends him into a sneezing fit when I ask for a collected trot, allergy attack lasting until the moment even a lowly cross-rail enters his line of vision and all allergens mysteriously clear the air. (Picture every teenage movie ever made, where high school nerd with glasses and an inhaler one days ditches the glasses, puts his hat on backwards, and suddenly rules the school). See it’s just that…well…trotting circles is okay and all, but runnin’ and jumpin’ is more FUN!

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