Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The report from Saugerties...

I left Seattle in typical hectic fashion: worked an eight-hour closing shift, then went straight to the airport to catch my red-eye flight. Thankfully, I had plenty of time to sit and have a cup of soup before heading to my gate – a welcome moment of quiet and calm.

I arrived in Philadelphia without incident, and was welcomed by my good friend and fellow para athlete Keith. It really is nice to have a familiar face waiting for you in unfamiliar places. We drove towards Newtown and Fire Creek Farm.

The Farm is nothing short of stunning. I could literally feel the tension of the hectic week disappearing. I suddenly had no particular agenda, and no particular timeframe, at least until Wednesday when we had to report to the showgrounds. It probably seemed a bit odd to the boarders that I was happy just to hang out or wander around the property, but it is truly a luxury to spend time at a barn, and I really feel like it is almost a meditative process. Slowing down, being present.

The first rides on Pavalina went well. I was a little frustrated with myself, because I could feel the potential, but couldn’t quite get myself sorted out. I was getting a bit too “bossy” and strong with my aids, when really I just needed to ask, and she would do her job. However, the down time allowed me to reflect on my rides, strategize, and in fact, our partnership improved each day.

Our plan was to head to Saugerties on Wednesday lunchtime. Francine needed to teach some lessons in the morning, and I figured Marci and I would use that time to get organized. Riders who were hoping to try for positions on the team were scheduled to ride in front of the high performance committee. Since I was on a borrowed horse, I figured it was more important to schedule those riders on their own horses…but by Wednesday morning I was getting text messages and calls wondering where I was, and why I had missed my ride time. Oops! We scrambled, and got in just in the nick of time. It was not my best ride, but we did get the chance to walk (tour?) the entire showgrounds, including the FEI ring conveniently while they were doing a sound check.

Thursday was the jog. I decided to ride in the morning, so Pavalina would have some downtime during the day. Just about the time we had hoped to get going, the sky opened up, and it started to pour. My good friend and team physio Laura Scherr was at the show doing some work on the hunter/jumpers, and stopped by to help some of the para horses. She did an adjustment for Pavalina, and by then the rain had let up slightly. The adjustment made a huge difference for the mare, and she was clearly ready to show! I shared the warm up ring with Catherine Haddad in the again pouring rain. J

The jog was scheduled for 5, but we were going to be the last horse to go. There was a lot of discussion about how long the jog would take, but in reality, the ground jury really had no interest in standing out in the cold and rain, and were accepting horses quickly. Consequently, Pavalina did not get more than the walk from her stall to the jog strip to warm up. Oops! Again!

Friday morning was cold and clear and windy. Pavalina was Very ready to get down to business, and seemed to grow a few inches with every step towards the ring. Our warm up was quite similar to what we had been working on, with the focus on the walk rhythm, the activity in the canter, reaching forward to the contact. I have nicknamed the Gr 3 Team Test “the walking test”. This would be a challenge for us, as Pavalina can get a bit lateral in her walk, particularly if she is anticipating the next movement.

The test went well. The walk was in fact a challenge, as was the Right shoulder-in…as soon as we developed it, we ran out of arena! I felt great leaving the arena, though. It felt so good to get out there, and have a “thinking” ride in the ring, and be partnered with a mare who was so in tune with me every step of the way.

We scored a 62%, a good score given our walk, the mistakes, and that I rode fairly conservatively.

Freestyle was Saturday. I was admittedly a bit more nervous for the freestyle, since we really had only run through it once, and I was not entirely sure where I would need to make up time. I planned out where I could add in circles, and hoped it would all work out!! We started our warm-up in the CDI ring, as it was adjacent to the ring we would be showing in. After 5 minutes or so, we were asked to move to the “para only” ring across the road. Once we moved into the para ring, we were asked to move back into the CDI ring, as that ring was for “para only” – ha! That is the first time I have ever been “mistaken” for an able bodied FEI rider ;-)

The freestyle was SO fun. It flowed almost perfectly. The trot at the beginning was bit unsteady, as I was thinking a bit more of making the pattern work than actually riding. Once I hit my “groove”, it was awesome. I couldn’t believe how well the music actually fit!! I love LOVE freestyle, and I am so glad we got to ride to my favorite music in the big CDI ring. I ended up with a 69%, a very unexpected score, and won the Gr 3, a very unexpected surprise!!

Sunday I rode my Individual Championship test. I had an “ah-HA” moment about the walk rhythm, and our warm-up was wonderful. I had a few bobbles in the test, but really rode every moment, and it felt great. Big booming canter, sweeping shoulder-in, it just felt awesome start to finish. I ended on a 67%, which won the class.

After our test, Francine took us down to the warm-up adjacent to the FEI ring, where I got a crash course in riding tempi changes – our “reward” for the weekend – So. Much. Fun!!!!

Unfortunately, reality sank in quickly….I had a flight to catch, and Fran and the amazing Pavalina needed to get home. We would unfortunately miss the USEF awards ceremony, I had to get home to the west coast so I could work on Monday.

So what comes next? I am very much hoping that Pavalina will continue to be a part of my life!! I am not exactly sure what that will look like yet. Washington is just so dang far away from PA! But I hope that this is just the first chapter in what will be a very exciting story!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

On my way...

In less than one week I will be in Pennsylvania, wrapping up Day 1 of training with my borrowed horse "Pavalina".

This trip has come together in a whirlwind...there are still pieces that need to be pulled together very quickly in the next few days.

In between feeling like I have absolutely lost my mind for dropping everything to go ride a horse in a CPEDI3* basically sight unseen, I am genuinely excited. I have been "itching" to get back in the show ring for most of the summer, and while there is joy in every ride, there is something so exuberant about a big horse show...the glitz of the showgrounds and all the horses so well turned-out, the camaraderie of everyone showing as well as all the officials and really feels like a celebration in so many ways.

I have become a great deal more confident in my riding in the past 6-8 months, and while I wish I had more time to practice "test riding" before I go, I actually feel Ok about things. I am trying to put together some sample choreography to the freestyle music I have, so that won't be too stressful (it is nice in these moments that I have amassed practically a library full of freestyles!).

In closing...I would like to thank everyone who has helped along the way, and who continues to support the dream!

If you are interesting in supporting my quest to London, please do not hesitate to contact me!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Living with Integrity

Hi Friends,

I titled this post "Living with Integrity". It is something I strive to do in every day, and I have always tried my best to let my ethics be my guide. Sometimes it means making very hard decisions though.

In making the decision to campaign to London 2012, I realized that the Team really needed not just a rider and a horse, but a rider and a horse who could pull down a top international score, which at my grade is in the 68-72% range. I knew I needed to sharpen my test riding, which had gotten a bit sloppy with riding Dylan, and I needed to find a horse that could consistently pull down 7's in the Gr 3 work when ridden accurately. Additionally, I decided that I needed to find a way to take the financial burden off of my own shoulders as much as possible - to find better ways to fundraise, and ensure that as much as possible, my own finances are kept separate from those of this campaign. Lastly, I am on an incredibly short timeframe to pull pull this all together.

I really believed that Neo was "the horse", and honestly, I still do believe that he IS "the horse"...he is talented, kind-hearted, and I cannot think of a horse better suited for the para work. However, Neo has had a quite a few riders in his life in the past 6 years, and it will take an investment of time in order for a relationship to flourish, and for him to be truly brilliant. And time is something I cannot fundraise for, nor do I have.

I am heartbroken, as Neo and I have accomplished so much in such a short amount of time, but I have to keep reminding myself about my timeline, and that I need to be ready to ride a test for scores in short order.

I find myself wondering what end? Am I "throwing away" a beautiful partnership in pursuit of medals? Is that truly living with integrity?

I suppose in the end I am hoping for BOTH a beautiful partnership, AND the chance to shine in competition.

In the meantime, Neo and I will just enjoy our rides together as he starts to look for his new "someone", and as I start to look for my new "someone", too.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Little Things/Big Things

This week has been filled with ups and downs and ups!!

I am starting to feel flutters in my stomach looking at all the pictures from the test events going on in London this week...have you seen them??

Here is the official site with some great shots: London 2012

The idea of everything coming together for a trip to compete in such an amazing environment gives me chills. It would really be a different experience than WEG - we will have a small team (4 riders and a small contingent of support staff), and we will all be training, traveling, and working together as a true team in support of the Paralympic Dream.

Neo really stepped up to the plate this week, which is in large part why I guess I am starting to let my mind wander ahead and think about London.

A large part of what we are working on is basic training concepts - go, turn, stop. In order for Neo and I to really get an understanding of one another, we really just need to start at the beginning. As we build our foundation, things are really starting to come together in exciting ways!! Yesterday, we had a few minutes of trot work that was WOW - the amazing feeling of throughness and power...the feeling that you could do just about anything!! The feeling you *hope* for as you jam down centerline! Gah!! Still giddy. I started looking at timelines and budgeting....kind of a buzzkill, but a necessary evil.

I have two major trips planned in 2012 - one to the Dressage Affaire, in Del Mar, California in March. The second will be to Selection Trials...I do not yet know when/where that will be, but I am guessing May/June, and am budgeting for middle-of the country-ish. I will also need to fundraise for Neo's continued care and training. So...I have my work cut out for me. But...I am determined, motivated, excited, I have an amazing horse that I KNOW will represent the US well!!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank ALL of those individuals who have supported me thus far, as well as thank my corporate sponsors Kerrits Equestrian Apparel, FarmVet, Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center, Antares, Browbands by Design,, and Olsons Tack for their tireless support. Thank you to Rebecca Chatfield for opportunity to partner with her amazing horse, and to Alyssa Pitts of AP Dressage for believing in Neo, believing in me, and making sure both of us keep our eyes on the stars, and our feet on the ground.

ANYTHING is possible, my friends. Believe it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The adventures of two redheads

As most of you have heard, I have given an incredible opportunity to partner with a local FEI horse, in hopes we can campaign for London.

"Neo" is a talented 16 year old Rheinlander gelding, who has seen a lot in his years - from "starring" in a reality television show, to helping amateurs and young riders make their FEI debut, and more recently, holding his own with the "big boys" at the California CDIs. He has a heart of gold, and so much in para, attitude is everything.

Neo is owned by Rebecca Chatfield, who is the president of Equestrian's Institute. Matt Eagan of MW Dressage has spent the past two years with Neo - he was pretty rough around the edges when he arrived in WA, and Matt did an amazing job bringing Neo back into the splendor he so deserves.

I am enjoying every single moment of every single ride with this critter. He is exactly the type of horse that suits my mind, body, and soul. He truly puts his 110% into each ride, whether or not the work is easy. He is also a patient teacher - reminding me when I am not correct. He is petite, but always expressive. He is curious, and kind. I do not doubt the partnership for a second.

As show season is well underway for friends, peers, and teammates, I admit I am getting anxious to get out and show off. But, I must remember that patience is sometimes the better choice in these circumstances. Neo and I have a lot of real, hard, work to do before we can enter the show ring honestly and confidently. For my part, I need to not just put the polish on...but strip off a few layers of dirt and grime, and start over. Years of riding a green and strong horse have left my riding sloppy - I lost sight of the fact that my own equitation strongly influences a horse's way of going. As far as Neo goes - we are working on "just the basics" so that he can appreciate them from a different perspective. A "para" perspective as it were!

I am excited, truly honestly excited about the road ahead. It can only hold GREAT things!!!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Our horses, Our teachers

Sorry folks, I have been quite "MIA" lately. It's been both a mix of activity, and a lot of nothing at the same time. I feel like I am on the cusp of being insanely busy, so trying to appreciate these last few moments of rest and quiet.

I have made the decision to go ahead and make a go at London. It sort of sounds like I came to this decision lightly, but it has taken me a long time to decide that my heart was still in fact "in the game". In addition, I have had the very unexpected opportunity to partner with a horse who has really made the decision simple. He is just a joy to ride, and it has brought back all the reasons why I love this sport in every minute in the saddle, and every moment spent with him.

I hope to share more publicly the who's, what's, and how's, of this new horse soon. :-)

But for now, I want to share a revelation I made - one that we have all made, and one that could not have come at a better time for me.

I took a pretty long break from riding, and getting back into the swing of things has been an interesting process. Every bad habit, weakness, and "shortcut" in my riding is painfully obvious - I often feel as thought I have been distilled down to the worst of my riding!

In being back in the saddle, I am also able to realize what amazing, kind, patient teachers our horses are for us. My current horse is well-trained, and if I am correct and fair, our rides our successful. If I am sloppy in my riding, my posture hunched, or my hands not keeping the contact "alive"...things quietly fall apart. No drama, but a sincere statement of "you are not doing this correctly". When I truly get it together, it suddenly becomes magic - that amazing feeling of a horse moving over their back forward into the contact - it suddenly seems like anything is possible!! There is no greater Pavlovian reward as a rider.

I now think back on all my horse-teachers who were so patient with me when I didn't know what it felt like when it was "Right"...who gave me those glorious moments just for the sake of letting me know what it felt like. What a generous spirit these animals have to show us the path!

I am amazed, humbled, and intensely grateful for the education I have received!

I am also very excited about the road ahead :-)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Holding Pattern

Sometimes after a period of extremely intense activity...we find it very difficult to slow down. I have been very carefully trying to slow down my pace since WEG, but far too often find myself revving my engine (spinning my wheels?!).

School is done, done done. I can hardly believe it. In some ways, it was a 3 and a half year journey, but I also think of it as the completion of a journey I started in 2001 when I originally started graduate school at really a ten year journey!!

Part of me feels like I should take time to stop and reflect about the journey I have been on in the past years. However, there is this little inner-cheerleader reminding me that there are so many exciting paths ahead...why slow down now to sniff the flowers, when there might be bigger, smellier flowers up ahead?!

I am admittedly anxious to get my business started, and find a new routine. I think the hardest part about this time "in between" adventures is not having daily obligations!!

I very much look forward to finding my path to the London Paralympics. But...rather than running down the trail, I instead hope to take my time. Allow the process to happen organically. Nurture the relationships, enjoy each moment. I will push when I need to push, but take deep breaths and make sure each decision is coming from the heart.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spring, and Change, is in the air

Hello Friends,

This week finds me scrambling to finish my last term paper, send off my licensing application, and scouting locations for my humble business.

It also finds Dylan in his new digs...just a ways down the road, with a fantastic junior. She is hoping to try for NAJYRC, and needed a horse to compete on...and well, she and Dylan are a great pair. I could not have asked for a better "next chapter" for my partner in crime. He practically trotted into the trailer, gave me one little look, then I swear if he could've he would have pulled the door closed himself to get on the road to his next great adventure!

So...I find myself "horseless". I have had the chance to think about how I want to proceed in my Para career. I of course want to continue training and competing for London. I also feel like I need to become more strongly involved in the role of athlete development.

There are so many talented riders and athletes, and the only way for the US to become a true world force, is to get those riders developed. Since funding is always going to be an issue, I strongly feel that our High Performance athletes should step up to the plate and help mentor these riders. It's not an easy task, particularly as we are all consumed with our own efforts.

So...I will continue on my horse-hunt, continue looking for sponsors and supporters, venture forward with my new acupuncture business, as well as look for ways to build and foster our para community here in the Pacific Northwest!

Dream big, my friends!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Holy it February already??

I can't believe how quickly and easily time slips away! There are the tiny signs of spring around me...the crocus are blooming, the robins have started singing in the morning. Today, the sun is shining beautifully, although the air is still cold.

I have taken a break from riding to focus on wrapping up my studies at Bastyr. I am very excited about finally finishing my Master's, and more than that, I am excited to embark on my new career. I love what I do, and I am excited to share acupuncture and chinese medicine with my community.

Dylan is still looking for his next home. I have spent a lot of time on the phone, answering emails, scheduling times for people to come up and look at him...but haven't found the perfect fit yet. I spent a lot of time thinking about it last week, and realized that what I would really love is to see Dylan take another rider to "the big show" like he did with me. I am therefore looking for a JR who needs a solid horse to campaign for NAJYRC. There are a lot of kids out there who have the skills, but maybe don't have the horse. I am hoping in a small way, if I can help Dylan find the right home in this way, I would be "paying it forward" for all help I have had in getting my career started. If you know someone who might fit the bill, let me know.

In the meantime, I am starting to map out the pieces of "what comes next" for my own riding plans. I am hoping to go to the Dressage Affaire to watch my teammates compete, and if I am able to secure a borrowed horse, ride in the Para clinic with Debbie McDonald.

I am also looking at options for a new horse. There are a few options out there - a lease, and/or forming a syndicate of a group of donors who would like to invest in ownership of a horse.

I will hopefully be leasing a horse in the interim to get back into the swing of things. I am also looking at options for competing at US Para National Championships, as well as getting to another Para international - there are several in Europe throughout the year.

The "map" is always a little daunting from a financial perspective, particularly in these tough times. I have faith in the process, and the amazing world around me, though, and I have no doubt it will all come together.

As usual, if you have funding ideas, or would like to be a part of the Team, drop me a line!

Until next time, "it's not about the destination, but the journey"!