Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023

Changes, Flying And Otherwise



And just like that, I’m home from Florida. The last month was a blur, with a flotilla of clients showing, and all at big levels. Liza and Hannah earned their Intermediaire scores for their gold medals, and they are right on the brink of Grand Prix. Julia, who six months ago went to her first recognized dressage show ever, did her first FEI tests, earning a very presentable mark in her first Young Riders qualifier. And my awesome mom did her first Prix St. Georges tests too!

Elvis has been fantastic and worked really hard. I never quite had the test I wanted, but I managed to bungle it a little differently every time, which has to count for something. Through my floundering around, including my first time going off course in a decade, Elvis himself remained totally steadfast, a confident and energetic dance partner who is easy to show both in and out of the tack, because he’s exactly the same as he is at home. I’ve never had a horse so uncomplicated that was also as talented as he is; my previous mega-talents have all been rank at this age, so Elvis is a refreshing break in that trend!

The Elvis Syndicate’s Guernsey Elvis is a consistent superstar. Photo

And Swagger spent the winter developing beautifully. He’s growing, so he’s alternated between hot-and-spooky and dead-and-wiggly, but through it all he’s gotten stronger and more organized in the work. I’m proud to announce that he can make a walk-canter transition on both leads 100 percent of the time, a canter-walk transition on one lead about 80 percent of the time, and one on the other lead about 50 percent of the time. Progress! There’s really nothing specific on his dance card for the year, but he does have an exciting new member of his team—my awesome longtime client and friend Beverley Thomas is now his co-owner. I’m looking forward to showing him under her name as soon as I can, you know, put a test together at some level. Wahoo!

Those things were the good things this winter. But there were some frustrating things too. The thing with my back injury was really scary and frustrating, and it took the wind out of my sails. Having to take time off from my normal routine meant a lot of lost condition, and this week, when I went to the gym for the first time since I left, I was really horrified by how much of my fitness I’ve lost. It’ll come back, but I’m scared to push.

Any progress I’d made in my back’s health was challenged a few weeks ago when I got bucked off rather spectacularly. Puck, who had been FANTASTIC and was really cooking, had a hard spook that turned into a diagonal of pretty strong bucks before he dropped me over the arena fence at the other end. I’m fine but still sore two weeks later, and I’m also just so frustrated because I was really thinking I was getting somewhere with him. And just getting launched was enough, but it happened when I was totally alone at the farm, and that really freaked me out. It’s been hard not to imagine all of the things that could have gone wrong, and as hard as I try, I’m not yet over that, so I’ve made someone stay with me ringside when I ride him now.

And I’m also saying goodbye to two longtime and treasured employees, both of whom have grown as much as they could with me and are moving on to new opportunities. Lisa will be running a business with her family in Florida, and Skye has found more of a riding position with a dear friend. It was time for them to spread their wings, and I’m immeasurably proud of all they learned with me, but it’s also sad, and scary, to lose good people and to have one’s routine shaken up.

I have to confess that I’ve not been the nicest person for the last two weeks. Change is scary, and facing my own human mortality is scary. But in that magical way that things have of working out, I’ve been back home since last Sunday (no flat tires!), and things are just falling into line.

My new assistant trainer, Jess, came into my life a little more than a year ago, and we cat-and-moused our way through the last year—when I needed someone, she’d found a job, and when she needed a job, I’d found someone—until recently. It seems like it was meant to be, and she’s fitting in beautifully, unflinching in the chaos of this month when we’re in between the old staff and new working students starting at the end of the school year. Her sunny attitude is a joy.


My longtime assistant trainer Lauren Fisher is one of the most resilient humans I know and is exactly who I want at my side when things get tough. And as if that weren’t enough, her own horse looks fantastic after some frustrating downtime last year, and I’m so excited to see where she goes!

The farm looks incredible, thanks to the careful tending of my barn manager, Kelly, who is so positive it should actually be illegal. And she’s gotten a jump on the things that we need to get us through the insanity of the spring show season, so we’re ready to go.

The group of clients who stayed in Virginia for the winter are riding beautifully, and their horses look fantastic. The spring flowers are pushing up, and the grass is turning green. The Floridian horses have been SO happy to get outside into turnout. Puck has been absolutely foot perfect since we came home, and I’m not making anyone sit with me while I ride him anymore.

I got to cook food in my kitchen and sleep in my own bed. I’ve got a whole month of relative peace before the spring show season starts up, so the horses who need to start ramping up can ramp up, and the horses who need a break can have one for a few weeks until we hit the year’s second wave of shows. I got to sit on my couch in my pajamas for a morning, and while I’m off to Texas for a clinic, when I come home, I’ll get to spend my day off (MY DAY OFF!) putting in the first half of my vegetable garden, doing laundry, and being a normal human not operating at Mach 2 with my hair on fire.

I’m sure crazy is just around the corner. But for the moment, I’m exactly where I want to be, and with the best group of people I can imagine. Change is scary, but exciting, too. I’m ready for it!
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