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April 6, 2014

Sprinting Home

Lauren, Fender and the rest of the gang conquered Florida; now it's time for the Northern horses to make their mark. Photo by SusanJStickle.com.

My last week in Florida was a blur. I showed Fender at the lovely little White Fences show right around the corner from our winter home, where he had one Rather Naughty moment on the first day, and then was Quite Spectacular With Unlucky Mistakes on the second, and on the whole I'm pleased as punch that a) my not-yet-8-year-old is fancy, and that b) my not-yet-8-year-old is still just a bit wicked. It means there's a spicy international horse in there. I like it.

I don't like rushing home a day early so that I could get back to Virginia before the last SNOWSTORM (seriously?!), but that is what happened. It's frustrating - I don't just come back North to hit the ground running. I have to come back sprinting like Usain Bolt. The last weekend in March is a show. The first weekend in April is a show. This year, to celebrate our reopening post-construction, we wanted to have an Open House, and the only day we could find is the following weekend, next Saturday (the 12th, from 1-4. Come on by!). The following day I'm running a 10 mile race in DC, and the following weekend - you guessed it - a show. After that Michael comes down for a clinic, and then - surprise! - a show the weekend after that. 

And many of these shows are qualifiers for the Young Horse and various Young Rider Championships, for which I have many students trying to qualify, and so it was really important that I get home, before the snow, so that I could immediately leave again. Sigh.

Fortunately, my kids made it worth my while. As if it weren't enough that they're all great kids, they're also all excellent riders. My Young Rider, Abby, has pulled her scores up 5-6 percent or so from last year. Hannah, her Junior rider sister, has an unreal new horse that we found for her, and has topped 70% in both her outings thus far. Kristin has Billy - age 22 - looking about the best he's ever looked in his life, and while some judges (not incorrectly) pick on the fact that he goes with an open mouth much of the time (which he's been doing for the last 11 years - if I could have changed it, I would have, I promise), others see Kristin's elegant riding and Billy's cadence and control. 

Kristin also got a very green pony last year, and has done an unreal job of bringing it to the FEI Pony level, where she is joined by my student Kate, who got a pony generously donated to Lendon Gray's Dressage4Kids organization. Neither of these ponies is easy-peasy, and neither of them live in full training with us, so they're not going to win the Pony Championships this year, but they're both learning a ton and have made unbelievable progress in a short period of time. I couldn't be more proud of either of them.

My Florida horses have done me proud, too. They all did so much growing in 10 weeks. Johnny's growth was mostly physical, more than educational. He's shot from 16.1 to knocking on the door of 16.3, and looks it - he's lean and lanky again, and in my next life, I'd like to have his metabolism, please, since I don't think I've ever fed a horse more. But all that aside, he still learned a lot in Florida. I'm pretty confident I'm scrapping my plan to try the Five Year Old division on him this year, not because he's not capable of doing everything at the level, but because I'd rather focus my energies - and, let's be real, my dollars - on his education up the levels towards things that are really important.

Fiero, Bev Thomas's coming 7-year-old, made tremendous progress not just in his education up the levels - we're now well on our way to easy-peasy flying changes - but in his body and his self carriage. My job is not just to train the horses to be the best they can be, but to train them to be the best they can be for their owners, and I was over the moon with how much easier Fiero was for Bev in his self carriage and balance by the end of our winter tour. He's a wonderful animal, and a privilege to ride and train - I want dozens more like him!

Connie, who comes with her horse, RIver, from Colorado to work with me is practically unrecognizable from the combination that we began with in January. Connie is learning about confidence, and while River is incredibly safe, he's also not the most forward-thinking animal on the planet, and makes Connie earn it a bit. She had a big ah-hah this winter about "Damnit, I said go forward NOW!," and it's paying off in spades. I hope to see them again soon in a clinic (as soon as I stop running for five minutes to make plans to head out there!)

Fender, of course, my wonderful child, made his Prix St. Georges debut like a proper gentleman, but that wasn't even the biggest thing. He, more than any other horse I've owned, has struggled through his youth with the idea of letting his rider in, letting the rider put pressure on him. He's the kindest, doofiest thing, but he's got an ego under saddle, and hasn't loved being told what to do. This winter, Fender made his biggest step forward yet in accepting his lot in life - that he has to let me drive. I know that sounds like a silly, anthropomorphic thing, but it's true. It's letting me put pressure on about canter pirouettes and half steps and real, authentic collection, but it's also going to be the thing that, when he's at the Pan Am Games or the World Cup Final or whatever, wherever, and it's hot/wet/freezing cold/day five of the show and we're all exhausted/whatever, will make him completely able to cope. This is huge.

But the award for the most progress goes not to one of the young horses, but rather to the oldest - 14-year-old Dutchie, a little Grand Prix horse I helped Caroline Stephens buy last year. Dutchie is a wonderful horse, probably one of the best I've ever sat on, but he'd been trained by pretty much one person his whole life, and I wanted to tweak his base way of going just a bit this winter. This seems, in theory, like an easy thing, but horses Dutchie's age and Dutchie's personality (very sweet, very kind and VERY introverted) are hard to help change. I cannot express enough how both gratifying and confidence boosting for myself his progress has been, and I had Caroline buy herself a tailcoat during her last visit to Florida, because she's going to do a drive-by on Third Level to get her two Bronze Medal scores and move right along to the Big Stuff. What a transformation for them both. 

I'm a proud momma bear all the way around, which is good, because it snowed when I got ohm, and that was Really. Not. Ok. But it's sunny and 60* today, and the grass is showing signs of green, and I got to hack my horses last week. It is good to be home!

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