Normally I stay in Florida until around April 1. It gets me home a week or so before the first horse show at Morven Park, so I can see the riders heading to that show once or twice before we go. Usually by then the weather has cheered up in Virginia, and while that’s mostly about me not wanting to freeze my ass off, it is also a little bit about wanting the transition to be less awful on the horses. A 40* temperature change is bound to happen either way, but waiting until 4/1 usually means going from 90* in Florida to 50* at home, which isn’t so bad.
But this year I have a bunch of wonderful young people heading to the first Region 1 qualifier for our various Young Rider and Young Horse Championships March 29-30, and so I decided to head home starting today, Monday, arriving home on Tuesday afternoon, and giving myself Wednesday and Thursday at home before heading to North Carolina with the kids on Friday. I entered Fender in the show at White Fences on Friday and Saturday, giving myself a leisurely last Sunday to pack everything up and say my goodbyes, and that was that.
That, of course, was not that.
Because it’s me, and because it’s this winter, with its wretched Polar Vortex, blizzard conditions and the like, the National Weather Service forecasted yet another snowfall of potentially epic proportions to crash into Virginia on Tuesday. I had to choose between leaving a day early, driving Sunday and Monday and arriving safely before the weather hit but also, therefore, in time for the weather to hit, or staying in Florida, enjoying the sunshine and waiting it out until it passed.
Naturally, I chose to leave early.
Why, I ask, why?, particularly as I’m parked in a hotel room in Florence, South Carolina, where the temperature dropped from the high 70s, low 80s to a low of 27 last night, writing this blog in bed under the covers. I know, I know, no one has any sympathy for me, but wahhhhhh anyway.
It did not make for a quiet last week in Florida. Fender decided to celebrate by being Young, Wild and Free in Friday’s Prix St. George, finally culminating in a tying-his-legs-in-knots incident mid-canter-half-pass-zig-zag that required a full halt to recover from (very professional). He felt fantastic in his test on Saturday, really rideable, and I unfortunately bungled a few crucial things in coefficient movements – walk pirouettes, small balance mistakes in canter pirouettes, a doofy 4 flying change after my stellar 9 extended canter, and so while the score was underwhelming on Day Two the score sheet had tremendous highlights, and I head home really happy with how much my horse has grown through the season, and eager to do about a show a month through the summer.
Johnny, too, has had tremendous growth during his Florida season, though most of it has been physical growth – I want to put a stick on him when I get home, but he might be 16.3. Considering he was 16.1 when we left in January, you can imagine that we really didn’t learn tremendous amounts of new skills, but that doesn’t worry me in the slightest.
Bev Thomas’s fabulous Fiero gets major points for his improvements during the season. Self-carriage is the name of his game, and while yes, he owned Second Level Test 3 and is coming home with a firm command of his flying changes, the biggest thing I’m proud of is how his “neutral position” has changed so much. He’s so much stronger, so much more able to help his rider keep an uphill and poll up and nose out balance. It may not look much different, but the feel is dramatically different, and I’m very proud of him.
But I think the Most Improved Award goes to Dutchie, Caroline Stephen’s wonderful Grand Prix horse. I was able to make such a difference in the way Dutchie uses his body, particularly in the quickness of his very talented hind legs. Changing and influencing a young horse is one thing, but changing a 14-year-old horse is another, and Dutchie let me do it, which says a tremendous amount about his character. Dutchie headed home to Caroline early Sunday morning a Whole New Man, and I had Caroline buy herself a shadbelly on her last Florida visit – her first Prix St. Georges is not far away!
My amazing Florida “staff,” composed of visiting owners and friends and a kickass-good 15-year-old graduate of Lendon Gray’s WIT program named Sarah (how I know Sarah is going far in life: she once called me to let me know that she was going to be late. She was supposed to arrive at 7 am. She pulled in the driveway at 7:01 and 36 seconds.) got me totally packed between my 10 am ride and my 5 pm departure to Sue and Jonna’s, where a Last Meal of seafood was prepared, and my new canine partner, Nike, got to romp about for one last time with all their dogs in the lingering Florida Sunshine, and we bust loose Sunday morning, and here we are.
Barring catastrophe we’ll get in to Virginia this afternoon, and I can do exciting things like go to the grocery store and clean my dusty little house before settling in for… the winter storm warning. Sigh. Welcome home!