One Wild Wellington Week

By |2021-01-30T05:39:21-05:00January 27th, 2021|COTH Posts|

Monday, 4:30 a.m. I am in Virginia, and I am awake. 4:30 a.m. seems to be my usual wake-up time these days, even on a day when I don’t need to be awake this early. I’m a terrible sleeper, which is irritating, but since I’ve got a few hours until my flight leaves, I start the day with some yoga. It leaves me feeling great, and I think, as I do every time I do yoga, I really should do this more often. Maybe I can do 20 minutes of yoga every day this week. That feels reasonable, right? Sure.

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The First Lesson

By |2021-01-22T06:01:25-05:00January 5th, 2021|COTH Posts|

I don’t often work with very, very beginner riders. That sounds snobby, and I don’t mean it to; I don’t have lesson horses, and the folks who seek me out for lessons with their own horses tend to have at least a few years of riding under their belt before they want a specialized dressage lesson.

A few years ago, my fiancé’s kids, then 9 and 11, took their first riding lessons, at a Pony Club Riding Center near me: Misty Brae Farm. Tori Hutcheson, the owner and trainer, has ridden with me before, and she’s produced countless competent young horse people across the English disciplines. (A side note: Pony Club is awesome because it makes kids not only learn to ride but also learn how to care for their animals and take that horsemanship seriously. If you have a kid in your life who rides, they need to be in Pony Club.)

I’d not seen someone’s first riding lesson before. It was fascinating, watching these kiddos just climb right on, brave as anything. It was really interesting to watch their instincts, some of them good (correcting their own balance to keep themselves in the middle of the horse), some of them not (gripping with their legs, drawing the heels up when they felt insecure). Tori and Megan De Michele, her daughter, who also teaches, quietly fixed each flaw and set the kids to riding, walking and even some trotting, posting and steering. In one lesson, they learned a ton.

But kids tend to be brave. They’re little; their bodies don’t hurt; they don’t have preconceived notions of their own mortality. Many of my own students took their first riding lessons as adults, and I knew, conceptually, that that was an impressive thing. But I’d never witnessed it.

And then this year, my fiancé, Ravi Perisastry, said he was going to take a riding lesson.

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Engagement (With Two Legs, Not Four)

By |2021-01-22T06:01:49-05:00December 8th, 2020|COTH Posts|

A little more than four years ago, I matched on a dating app with a funny Indian engineer with a big nose, holding a bottle of Zima—the disgusting Sprite-and-rubbing-alcohol-esque garbage that teenagers got drunk on in the 90s—in his profile picture. Our first date was at a local pizza place, and I left thinking that he was nice, well-adjusted and responsible, and more than a little afraid of me—in other words, absolutely not my type. But he wanted to see me again and take me to a REALLY nice restaurant in town, and I figured hey, dinner there is NEVER a bad idea.

His name is Ravi, and as of last week, he’s my fiancé.

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Let The Packing Commence

By |2020-12-08T05:03:57-05:00November 27th, 2020|COTH Posts|

It’s T-minus three weeks until our annual winter migration to Florida. The packing has long-since commenced, and we’ve gotten smarter over the 10 (10!) years we’ve been heading south, leaving more things there so there’s less schlepping. There are spreadsheets. There are whiteboards. There’s even a Google Doc. But it’s still quite the ordeal.

First, logistics: Hay in Virginia runs between $5 and $7, depending on where you get it and how much of it. In Florida, the same timothy hay we get will run me about $18-22. Grain is relatively comparable, and bedding is relatively comparable, but the hay is a doozy. So instead of hauling horses myself, I load my 2+1 Jamco full of Virginia hay and shove as much as I can into other peoples’ trailers as well. (The horses ship commercial.)

But that means that I’ve got the dressing room of that trailer for the personal effects of 12 horses. It’s quite the game of Jenga, but somehow it works. Tack. Blankets. (It does occasionally actually get cold in Wellington, so we take sheets, ceramic sheets and mediums for everyone.) Supplements. SUPPLEMENTS. And then everybody’s individual stuff: boots and helmets and whatever special things people want to bring. Saddle pads. And neoprene boots—I prefer neoprene in Florida because you can rinse it out and dry it, rather than having to wash after every use like fleece-lined boots. The sand in Florida is really abrasive, and I spend a lot of energy keeping legs clean, healthy and dry.

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The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

By |2020-12-08T05:02:29-05:00November 17th, 2020|COTH Posts|

I’ve started conversations (and, I believe, at least one or two blogs!) with those four little words so many times I’ve lost count. This year, I’m certainly not alone. This is not a piece whining about “woe is me,” so let’s get that clear from the get-go. I’m healthy. My family is healthy. I have been gifted an amazing life. I have perspective.

But I’m also hard-wired for yearning. If I was a cattle dog, they’d describe me as having a high prey drive. I live in a constant state of hunger for more, more of whatever it is I’ve turned my focus to at any particular time. On a good day, that’s great. On a bad day, that makes me the kind of person who is tempted to chew off her own arm.

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Autumn Fitness Camp Begins

By |2020-11-12T10:06:10-05:00November 6th, 2020|COTH Posts|

With the 2020 show season officially in my rearview, it’s time to maximize the next few months before we head to Florida. We are still heading to Florida, even with the world’s many unknowns, because while showing is lovely and fun, my team and I really go down to train in the nice weather and to be close to my coach, so I can get more help with my herd. If we actually get to show, then great. But the training is the key.

Fortunately, all three of the 9-year-olds in my life are in a place where the training is really important right now. For Gretzky, aka Puck, he’s ready for his Prix St. Georges debut, and for Elvis, he’s pretty darn close to having the passage, piaffe and transitions between them that could take us down centerline at Intermediaire II. That means my time is being spent making them both a lot stronger for collection.

This is where it’s nice to be at home, specifically my home. My farm sits on 135 acres of rolling hills, and this year we’ve had a perfect autumn with the right amount of rain to make the ground fantastic. So I’m working out of the ring at least two days a week. For Puck, canter pirouettes on a hillside are giving him a lot of balance and a lot of coordination, and for Elvis, piaffe down a hill is helping with engagement. Any hill work is fatiguing, of course, so I’m careful about watching the amount of time that we spend working, and I give lots of breaks to help keep injury at bay. But it’s been extremely helpful already.

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Finishing Full Of Run At The 2020 GAIG/USDF Region 1 Championships

By |2020-11-12T10:07:38-05:00October 15th, 2020|COTH Posts|

Hey, guess what? It’s been a weird year. Shocking, I know.

I had a plan—getting Elvis to the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions—only to have it rerouted by COVID-19, amongst other things. But I also had a few plans for the other horses in my life: trying to qualify as many as possible for the USDF Finals. And then those were canceled.

I must confess that I did not shed a tear for the USDF Finals. For sure it’s one of my favorite shows, run by a crack team and with a very “Big Deal” feeling. I’ll miss not being there, but not nearly as much as I’d be anxious and scared, knowing it wasn’t fair when so many couldn’t be there, knowing what a dangerous and irresponsible proposition such a big gathering of people, largely indoors, from all over the country, would be.

And not for nothing, but being done a month earlier wasn’t breaking my heart. Every horse in my life is developing, not finished. I want to see them rise to their potential, and I want to do it smart, letting my horses have downtime when I can. So being done competitively by mid-October instead of mid-November? A silver lining I’m perfectly happy with.

So it meant that the Region 1 Championships were our year-ender. I’d qualified Puck (Gretzky RV) for the third level championships and Patrick—Terrina Baker’s De Angelicus MTF—for the first level championships when we were in Florida. Helio earned his fourth level and Prix St. Georges qualifying scores over the summer. And off we went.

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The Splendid and Dependable Reformed

By |2020-11-12T10:09:13-05:00September 24th, 2020|COTH Posts|

Horses like Elvis, and like Ellegria, and Dorian Gray, and Fiero, are unbelievably wonderful to train. They have their hiccups and misunderstandings along the way, but they’re generous of heart and mind, and talented of body and limb; they soak up the education presented to them like a sponge, and they make their way up the levels, and that’s that. It’s hard. Of course it’s hard. But it’s relatively linear. On a gifted and kind horse, you rarely despair. It’s great fun. I highly recommend it.

Then there are the Pucks. The Midges. The Fenders. The ones whose bodies, or minds, or both, aren’t always on your side. The ones who, at least for a time, do not care who you are, or what your credentials are, or how fair or methodical or correct you are; they do what they want. And what they want is absolutely, unequivocally NOT what you want.

Getting those ding dongs on your side is time consuming, exhausting, occasionally scary, and will fill you with doubt. There are times where it is sheer misery. And I freaking love it.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!

Resilience Lives On The Other Side Of Adversity

By |2020-10-30T06:52:29-04:00August 26th, 2020|COTH Posts|

A few years ago, in the midst of a spat with disaster-fatigue-induced depression, I had the word “grit” tattooed on my left wrist. I adore it, I adore the meaning behind it, and I look at it often for comfort.

I don’t think it would surprise anyone to hear that I’ve needed a little grit lately, because I think we all have. This is one of those times where a whole lot of awfulness is beyond our control, and we’re just going to have to bear it a while. And I know I’m not alone when I say that I’m just freaking tired of it. It’s exhausting. And since I’m not a molecular scientist, and since I already wear my mask and don’t go anywhere, and since I’m already registered to vote, there’s no action I can personally take to make any of this take less long. So I’m at my limit.

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Bev Brought So Much Joy

By |2020-07-25T13:34:08-04:00July 23rd, 2020|COTH Posts|

I don’t believe in editing my work. Or second drafts. If you’re reading a blog of mine, there’s an overwhelming possibility that it was a one-hit-wonder, something I banged out in one sitting, ran quickly through spell check, and sent off to my editors. Boom, done. But I’ve written and rewritten this blog about five times now. Is it because goodbyes are so hard, and there’s so much I want to say about my amazing friend, Beverley Thomas? Maybe. But mostly it’s because I’m still not ready. I thought we’d have so, so much more time.

In 2013, I received an email from a woman about training for her horse. She said she was older, had bought a young horse, and that her current trainer was doing the lion’s share of the riding, but she wanted to ride the horse more herself. I was braced for disaster, but the horse was a treasure, one of the best-tempered animals I’ve ever encountered. And the lady was perfectly capable of riding him. So into my program came a horse named Fiero, and his owner, Beverley Thomas. It was the beginning of a friendship the likes of which I’ve rarely known, and one I figured would carry on until time stood still.

But two weeks ago, after not hearing from Bev in two days, we drove to her home to check on her and found her unconscious. She passed away last Thursday. It’s just impossible to believe that this bright, ferocious force of a person is gone. But she’s gone.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse.

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