Tuesday, Jul. 2, 2024

Years Gone By, Priorities Changed

We've been talking a lot about where we were 10 years ago today. I was a high school senior, having just returned from a trip to New York City for a cousin's wedding. On September 9, 2001, I ran my fingers over the World Trade Center's cold frame.

But that's not what I wanted to write about.



We’ve been talking a lot about where we were 10 years ago today. I was a high school senior, having just returned from a trip to New York City for a cousin’s wedding. On September 9, 2001, I ran my fingers over the World Trade Center’s cold frame.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about.

I’ve been thinking of where I was five years ago. The USEF National Championships were in June that year at Gladstone. Billy was 14 and in the prime of his competitive life. Our piaffe was average, and the walk rarely happened in the competition arena itself, but B and I placed third at the first-ever Brentina Cup Championship. That win opened a door to work for Carol Lavell in Florida, which in turn led to a job for Pam Goodrich in New Hampshire. Between the two I learned more about training horses than I thought possible. And it gave me a taste for victory. I vowed to return to that birthplace of equine greatness and to earn a Championship.

2007 wasn’t it. Four years ago, Billy returned to that hallowed ground, and we were having problems. A few months before Billy had developed a creative penchant for demonstrating his ability for collection by completely leaving the ground in front. (That’s my diplomatic way of saying We Learned To Rear In Piaffe.) The problem ended up being a difficult-to-find injury. I learned a hard lesson in If It Don’t Feel Right, It’s Probably Not, and I got to start a wonderful friendship with Dr. Kent Allen, the first vet I met in my new home in Northern Virginia.

2008’s National Championships were in California, and a $25,000 proposition just wasn’t possible for Cleo and I to contest the I1 Championships.

A year later it was back to Gladstone for the Brentina Cup once again. And once again it wasn’t meant to be; Cleo rode through the preliminary test making uncharacteristic mistakes that kept our score well below what we’d been used to. That night, she passed a bad follicle (something that hadn’t happened before and hasn’t since) and colicked. She rallied beautifully and won the final test, but the first day’s damage kept us from that big blue cooler.

But I returned home to great things from my young horses and the beginning of big things for my business. I had terrific clients, started teaching clinics away from home, and I was establishing a name for myself as more than just a kid rider on nice horses.

2010 was going to be my year. Ella was ready to conquer, already a star and barely at the beginning of her life at Grand Prix. Three weeks before the Championship, she started feeling run-down and developed a little congestion. I recalled Billy’s injury and had my vet out, and sure enough, she’d developed a little respiratory infection. She’d need two weeks of rest to recuperate… giving me about two days before we had to leave for New Jersey. It wasn’t in the best interest of my horse to compete, and that was that. No Brentina Cup for me.


I was beginning to feel like Captain Ahab, and I shelved my blue ribbon dreams for 2011. This year I’ve done virtually no showing of my own horses; instead, I’ve ridden for clients and coached a flotilla of students to competition success from green to FEI in two disciplines. And I shocked the heck out of myself with this: I felt no twinge of regret watching my friend Caroline take home the blue yesterday.

Because I was at Morven Park with my students, watching my working student, Stephanie earn a blue ribbon at second level, as well as a score towards her USDF Bronze Medal. I helped my mom conquer her horse show demons with two 60 percent+ scores on her wonderful Indy, and I helped Candace at her first dressage show with Blue, a lovely mare rescued from an auction by her owners, the Hams.

Francine took some top scores on a horse she bred and trained all by herself, Francine being a NICU nurse with two young kids. Kristin and Lala proved hard to beat all weekend. Kristin is a newcomer to dressage, and Lala is another homebred. Odin was a superstar and is learning to take a half-halt like the brilliant schoolmaster he’s not far away from becoming. Meghan’s baby Lumi continues to develop into a big horse. Lisa and Ali are both becoming masters of real, true On-The-Bit-itude.

And while they weren’t competing, Janell, Patricia, Terrina and Sandra all stopped by to say hello and cheer us on, just because.

If you’d asked me five years ago, going down centerline on Billy, about my plan for my life in 2011, I would have talked about bringing horses to Grand Prix and the size of the ribbons I wanted to win. It took me this long to see the real victory I wanted: to build a business that works. To make horses and riders better and better to each other. To create a community that is a pleasure to be a part of, to bring people together. And to show others how great and rewarding dressage can be.

I still want that blue cooler. But the gift I was given this weekend, a whole squadron of happy riders on happy horses doing well at a horse show, was something that, as a high school senior, dreaming of what the world would be 10 years after those towers fell, I wouldn’t have dared to hope for.




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