Shining Stars

I got a really cool email a few weeks ago. As a team medalist at Zone Jumper Finals back in August, I was eligible to apply for a “wildcard” spot at a Gold Star Clinic as part of the Emerging Jumper Rider program through USHJA. From what I understand, all individual medalists automatically earn an invite, and then they open up the wildcard spots to the team medalists for consideration.

I haven’t worked this hard on an application since college, y’all. It was a long and hefty questionnaire, an essay on my goals for the future, and then I needed a letter of recommendation from a show jumping professional (thank you Trainer!). They also allowed me to include “any other materials I’d like the selectors to consider.”

I immediately started making plans for a professionally shot and cut video, testimonials from everyone I’ve ever met as to my dedication, a music video about me and Frankie. You know. Normal stuff like that. I ended up going with a link to this blog and some of my favorite posts to be like I THINK SO HARD ABOUT RIDING ALL THE TIME and a cute pic of me and Francis.

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Because how can you resist these happy faces?!

All materials assembled (and after I dried my tears from seeing the nice things Trainer said about me in her LoR), I sent off my packet for consideration.

I’ll be honest, just being on the list of names invited to apply for a spot was enough to get me shaking and giggly. We’re fairly new to this still and don’t have the same mileage as a lot of the other riders yet, so making that short list is an absolute dream come true.

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I just like to smile, smiling’s my favorite

I just heard back: they had an unexpectedly high response of individual medalists, which meant that they weren’t able to accept any wildcard applicants- but I was invited to audit.

I forgot to mention: this clinic is down in Wellington. Florida. 15 hours away. Santa had told me that if I got a spot, my presents wouldn’t be under the tree but would be a commercial shipper for Francis. While I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to go audit and get the chance to pick Richard Spooner’s brain and watch Anne Kursinski ride, I can’t really justify the expense of changing flights/hotel/etc without also getting the chance to ride.

I have a couple feelings about this:

  1. Really glad that there’s so much interest in the program. I think these types of “pipeline” programs that they’re promoting more in recent years are exactly what we need to get good talent to the top levels, and clearly competitors are responding that these are programs they like.
  2. Bummed I didn’t get a spot. I’m only human! Of course I wanted to go ride and learn!
  3. Relieved that if I didn’t get it, it wasn’t for lack of trying. I wasn’t outmatched, they liked my application, they simply did not have room. That’s entirely out of my control.
  4. At the same time, a little annoyed that they didn’t end up taking ANY wildcards. Though at least they’re rewarding the wildcards with the auditing invite plus a Q&A with Richard, so they clearly are trying to still give something to us. This is the first year they’re implementing this program so growing pains are to be expected, and they have already committed to expanding it next year.
  5. Thoughtful about my application. It asked some questions that I hadn’t really taken the time to consider before. I definitely don’t see the time spent on my application as a waste- it was a great exercise in considering where I want my future in this sport to go, and gave me a space to crystallize some thoughts I have on different aspects of the industry.
  6. Wishful that I had more funds so that I could go and audit without affecting my show fund for the rest of the season.
  7. Excited to set aside some money to clinic next year with a big name- not sure who or when yet, but now I’ve got the clinic bug and would definitely like to find one that fits my needs.
  8. Motivated to earn an individual spot on the podium so they have no excuse not to let me in next year.

OK, so that’s more than a couple feelings! I’m a complicated person, clearly.

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This guy will be the first to tell you that I’m a dang enigma sometimes

Frankie and I will be working hard to stay on their radar screen in 2018, and we’ll keep participating in as many programs as we can! If positivity and persistence count for anything (and I’m convinced they do), we’re gonna do some real cool stuff.

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New Rule, Who Dis?

I’m a rule person. I like structure, I like clear expectations, I like when people DON’T SIT IN THE LEFT LANE FOR NO REASON OR TALK IN THE MOVIE THEATER LIKE HEATHENS. I like rules. I like when other people follow rules.

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So naturally, I have the USEF Rulebook app on my phone, have read my pertinent sections back to front several times, and avidly follow rule changes or new rule proposals.

Because rules control the fun.

I don’t know how closely y’all stay up to date on rule changes, but a new USEF rule for 2018 has literally changed my life. Like, I got shivers because I could see my future track of competitions changing. Here’s the rule:

JP117.2:  Amateur Jumper: A horse that is ridden by an Amateur. Classes are restricted to riders who are no longer eligible to compete as junior exhibitors.

  1. (For Amateur rules please see GR1306)
  2. Dividing Classes. Sections may be offered divided by either specific height or age of rider.
  3. Level of Difficulty:
    1. 1.40/1.45m Amateur classes will have courses set at either 1.40m (4’7”) or 1.45 m (4’9’). The maximum height for the first class of this section, and for any classes in which time is the deciding factor in the initial round, is 1.40 m (4’7”). Note: Only Amateur classes set at either 1.40m or 1.45m will be pointed toward HOTY awards in the 1.40/1.45m Amateur category.
    2. 1.30/1.35m Amateur classes will have courses set at either 1.30m (4’3”) or 1.35m (4’5”). All Amateur classes set at either 1.30m or 1.35m will be pointed towards HOTY awards in the 1.30/1.35m Amateur category.
    3. 1.20/1.25m Amateur classes will have courses set at either 1.20m (3’11”) or 1.25m (4’1”). All Amateur classesat either 1.20m or 1.25m will be pointed toward the 1.20m/1.25m Amateur category for purposes of HOTY awards.
    4. Local competitions – no minimum course requirements and no points towards National Horse of the Year awards. 

In case you haven’t fully grasped the significance of this yet, it means that USEF shows can now offer classes from 1.20m that are limited to amateurs who do not need to own the horse.

srsly

I’ll say that again: there are now classes for amateurs to compete against other amateurs without needing to buy an AO horse.

Ho. Lee. Crap.

Does this have potential for abuse by shamateurs who will be basically professional and riding a string of horses like a pro? Yes. I’m not naive, there are always people who skate around the system like this.

But there are also people like me. Who can’t afford an AO horse and likely never will, who don’t want to take the time to find a talented baby or diamond in the rough to develop (more power to those of you who do, I just don’t want that). Who know that leasing a horse for that height is likely the only feasible way to do it with their time and money constraints, but also knew that meant competing in the Open classes against pros.

It may not be a perfect solution, but this is a real bridge to the upper levels for riders who might not otherwise be able to afford it. To my eyes, this is a fantastic way of creating greater access to higher levels by not restricting the pathway to those who can afford either the price tag of an established jumper or the time investment to bring one along.

I’m still in no rush- I’ll get there when I get there. It’s just extremely exciting to me that when I do get there, I have options to progress on my own terms.

Tell me your thoughts! I know the amateur rule is a very touchy one (with good reason) and I’d love to hear what you think- agree or disagree- about the new Amateur Jumper divisions.

 

Retreat from the Cold

Back in July Roomie and I had the foresight to book a trip to Florida for when the weather was turning- and yes, it was one of our smarter moments. Manfriend and Roomie and Roomie’s Manfriend and I just spent a few days in the sun and it was AWESOME. I’ll let the pics tell the story.

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When your first flight leaves at 6am, you start the morning drinks at 5:30am #livingmytruth
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We ate at this waterside restaurant literally 4 times. We are creatures of habit.
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It’s not a party ’til I break out the giraffe pants
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SO PRETTY EVERY DAY
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Every once in a while we score a cute pic
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Usually not tho
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We were the classy group with the cooler by the pool. We only left this spot to eat and sleep.
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Gorgeous beaches!
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And gorgeous sunsets
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And gorgeous people
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Favorites
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Legit I just took this with my phone. It’s actually that pretty.
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Live with me forever

Not pictured: the 200 lbs of shrimp we ate, the bloody Marys we demolished, the vodka tonics we housed, the one other restaurant we went to (literally we went to 2 the entire time). All we did was sun ourselves, eat, drink, sleep, and repeat and it was EXACTLY what the doctor ordered.

I’m feeling refreshed and ready to get back into a routine with Francis!

…oh wait that’s right, I’m headed north to Rhody for 9 days for Thanksgiving.

Someday I’ll ride again! Until then, I’m going to enjoy stuffing myself silly and holding on to the barest hint of a tan I managed ❤

LoveFest

I know I gush about Frankie on the regular, but we haven’t had a dedicated gush session in a while.

So strap in, because I need to talk for a while about just how much I adore this horse.

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LITERALLY THE CUTEST EVER

Of course I always adore him, but it just hit me super hard in my last lesson. We weren’t doing anything crazy, the jumps weren’t huge and the courses were simple. It was one of those lessons where we went back to basics and focused on precision.

But for whatever reason, it struck me so hard that I really do have the horse of my dreams.

Whether it’s because we’ve trained him to perform exactly how I like, or because I’ve adjusted my own riding to his style of going, or (likely) a little bit of both, he’s my favorite horse that I’ve ever ridden in my entire life. By a long shot.

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He wishes I loved riding him less so he didn’t have to do weird crap like this, but he deals with it.

He’s the perfect mix of steady and fiery. His version of spooking is taking a deep breath and blinking twice, and will happily toodle on a loose rein forever and ever. But if I put some leg on and take a feel, he will turn and burn and jump the moon.

He’s so wonderfully athletic. Everything I’ve ever asked of him, he has been able to do without difficulty. As he’s learned how to use his body over jumps and we’ve developed our flatwork, the jumps have gone up and the turns have gotten tighter and he’s met it all with the same happy attitude.

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He’s just so darn HAPPY all the time

He doesn’t hold grudges. I mess up all. The. Time. And he bails me out without hesitating. I have no doubt I would be eating a lot more dirt on any other steed, but Francis keeps trucking and lets me go back and try again without a fuss. And then he turns around to look at me and demand ear rubs for being so good.

He’s got so much personality. I swear, he’s like a little boy. He just wants to know what’s going on, and get attention, and poke his nose where it doesn’t belong, and pretend he didn’t hear you when you told him not to eat the crop. He loves to play and I can spend hours with him without getting bored.

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He loves booping his snoot against me for snuggles

When I got him, I was hoping for a horse that could safely take me around a 1.10m course. What he’s given me is so so so much more than that. I’ve never had to say no to something because I thought my horse couldn’t or wouldn’t do it. He gives me the confidence to say yes to everything because I have the best partner in the world.

Championship rounds at 1.15m? No sweat, and let’s throw in some inside turns just ’cause. Cross country schooling? Happily, on a loose rein. Go into the equitation ring? Let’s go win the class. Toodle in a halter? Best day ever. Work on lateral movements I never even heard of ’til recently? Mahm it’s like this. Chill in his stall? We can trade scritches alllll day long.

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Also sometimes he wishes I would leave him alone to nap in peace but TOO BAD BUDDY LET ME LOVE YOU

He’s been my pony for just over 570 days and I keep waiting to be chiller about having a horse. Like, maybe one day I’ll wake up and this will be totally normal and whatever it’s all cool I just have this incredible animal that I get to take care of and ride no big deal at all. Except clearly I have NO chill and keep getting MORE excited about it because HOLY CRAP THIS HORSE IS AMAZING.

I feel like all I ever talk about is how much I love my horse, but I can’t help it. He’s everything I could ever want and more- and he just keeps getting better. Every time I think we’ve hit a peak, he goes out there and shows me that he’s got more to give.

My trainer jokes that if she hears me say “OMG I LOVE MY HORSE” less than 4 times in a lesson, she knows that something is terribly wrong. Can you blame me?? He’s the total package, and good looking to boot.

I’ll shut up for now. I just need y’all to know how much I love this big, goofy, wonderful creature.

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Leaving the Ring

At every horse show, I call my parents after every class to let them know how it went. They’re both fantastic sports about this- they’re not quite sure where they failed as parents, but they’ve learned to roll with the crazy. They’re also contractually obligated to love me and have to put up with me saying “Francis was a very good boy” 2087 different ways over and over and over again.

So after Zones, I called my mom on my way home. I told her how we had a great warmup, then got buzzed out of the ring in our first class because I didn’t help my horse out through the combo. She patiently listened to me describe what happened, then asked:

“How did you feel when you left the ring?”

Which really made me think hard- I’m so focused on the physical fitness aspect of this sport, the mental toughness of lasting a whole long weekend, the planning and strategy of how to best ride the course. I’ve often thought about how I feel when I walk into the ring- am I nervous? Do I remember my course? Crap, what’s my jumpoff?!

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Sometimes I enter the ring giggling because I love riding my horse so dang much

I don’t often consider how I feel when walking out of the ring.

The short answer: I felt fine. I always feel fine.

Do I feel freakin’ fantastic and leave the ring with a giant smile when things go well? Obviously. I love when the pieces come together and I’m always thrilled when Frankie goes out there and struts his stuff like a total pro.

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Leaving the ring, spazzing out with happiness

But my options aren’t happy vs. sad/mad/frustrated. My two options are happy vs. focused. I can’t remember the last time I walked out of the ring without patting Frankie and telling him what a good boy he is and taking a deep breath for myself. And that’s for a couple reasons.

Nine times out of ten, any trouble we run into on course is my fault. On the odd occasion that he pulls a rail and it isn’t due to rider interference, it’s because he’s tired- and his fitness is my responsibility. So scratch that: legit 100% of the time that something goes wrong, it’s my own fault and not his. He’s a very hard worker and wants to do a good job, and will perform as well as I enable him to. So that’s why I never get frustrated with Frankie- I am beyond lucky to have a literal unicorn as my trusty steed.

But I don’t really get frustrated or flustered with myself, either. Do I wish I could do better? Yes. Absolutely 100% yes, it’s why I pour every piece of my soul into this sport. But I can’t go back and change that round by regretting the fact that I tried to add a stride when I should have left it out. All I can do is go back and practice and try again later. All of my energy is focused on making my next round better- I have the energy to understand what I did wrong in my last round so I can fix it, but I don’t have the energy to harp on it.

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Sometimes I collapse on my horse when I leave the ring

When I left the ring after getting buzzed out in disgrace, I was already thinking about how I could fix that combo next time. I was already talking to my trainer about what I wanted to try differently, what we could do in our warmup to set us up for success, all that jazz.

How did I feel? I didn’t feel. I wasn’t happy or sad or embarrassed or any of that- I was focused on making the next round better.

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Sometimes I look miserable when we leave the ring, but really I’m just sweaty as I pat my pony

So when we left the ring after our next round, with some sticky spots and rails, I smiled and said to my trainer, “we fixed the combo!”  My horse continued to work hard to do his job, and I was able to help him out a bit more than I did before. That met my criteria for being happy about a successful round- I don’t need perfection to be satisfied, but I do need progress.

After all, every time I exit the ring still on my horse’s back means I can check at least one thing off the to-do list. It’s all about having reasonable expectations, right?

How do you feel when leaving the ring after a good round? A bad one? 

The Tough Good Call

Lemme tell you a little story about something that happened recently.

First, the cast of characters: a 12yo girl at my barn, and her pony. Devyn is a total kickass barn rat (she’s my go-to rider for Francis and her equitation is out of this world), and she’s had Sadie Pony for 6 years. They qualified and competed at Pony Finals this year where they finished top 20 in their division and top 10 over fences. So clearly both Kiddo and Pony are really talented.

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The pony jumps like this literally every single time, she’s incredible

But Sadie is also starting to get a little older, so Devyn and her family decided to step down her workload after Finals. They’re looking for someone to lease her for the lower levels so that she can keep sharing the joy with another kid, without stressing her body by continuing to compete at full division height. So while she’s been in work since Finals, it’s been fairly light and she hasn’t jumped at that height in several months.

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Instead, Devyn has been preparing to move up to the Highs and totally CREAM me and Francis with her lease mare.

Fast forward to last weekend: Devyn got a notification that she and Sadie Pony had unexpectedly qualified for the WIHS Pony Eq, to be held 3 days from that notification. She was elated to hear this, but also shocked to hear so last minute.

So she and her mom- both a bit overwhelmed- immediately reached out to Trainer to talk about pros and cons. After going back and forth for a little while, Trainer stepped back and said: “I trust your judgement as a horsewoman. What do you think you should do?”

Without hesitation, Devyn said that she felt it would be unfair to ask her pony to go compete at that level without giving her the fitness and stamina needed to perform. She said it wasn’t worth risking her health.

So to recap: this 12 year old got a chance to compete at one of the biggest shows of the year, and turned it down because she put her pony’s health first.

I certainly don’t think I had that level of maturity at that age.

In the face of so much controversy in different disciplines about the next generation of horsemen and horsewomen, I am so incredibly proud to ride with such an excellent young horsewoman. One who works her butt off and seeks out opportunities to learn, and always loves her horse more than she loves competing. I’m proud of her family, for nurturing that love of learning and supporting her decisions. And I’m proud of my trainer for giving her students the education to make tough calls, then trusting her students to make healthy choices.

Next time I’m faced with a difficult decision, I hope that I can see as clearly as Devyn did.

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