Monday, September 22, 2008

All Kinds of People

Continuing with the Fox Hunter saftey Clinics, I want to take a (should I say another) moment to describe the value of these sessions. We have had so many different kinds of people and horses participate this year. Everyone has a common goal - to ride safer! All the horses and all the riders are improving and having fun. Everyone is leaving the clinics with homework and something to work on at home.

The issue of safety, of course, is not my idea, nor is it a novel one. I must admit that the concepts I bring to these clinics were taught to me by other great riders. To name a few of the dozens of "visitors" who waft in and out through the airwaves during our sessions, we have had Lucinda Green, Jimmy Wofford, Bruce Davidson, Katie Monahan Prudent, William Steinkraus, George Morris, Carol Bishop, David Hunt, Micheal Tokaruk and a zillion more - a VERY impressive cast of characters. However, these are only a fraction of the names I could include and I mean no disrespect to any of the people that have helped me over the years.

Learning to ride and bond with our horses in any discipline is a lifelong journey. Just about the time you think you are getting somewhere, you find that you need to start over or another journey begins. It is truly endless...

This year, we have had Doctors, Lawyers, Indian Chiefs, Landscape Architects, Housewives,Nuclear Scientists, Shrinks(can't spell the real word) Masters of Hounds, Hunt members from numerous packs, Horse Show riders, Eventers...the list goes on and on.

As for the horses, we have had Arabians, Percherons, Quarter Horses, Thouroughbreds, German horses, French, Spotted, and even Tenessee Walking Horses. I know I am forgetting some but you get the idea.

I have mentioned over and over the things we work on and they never end. The Hitchcock Woods offers us an incredible classroom... and I am starting to think that one way to solve the world's energy crisis is the illumination of all the light bulbs that keep popping on and off at Gaylord's Manage! Til next time...

The Ridge Track

I am VERY far behind in my blogging, so I am going to give you all a huge overview of what's been happening with the clinics. There have been so many different groups this year and the interest has been terrific.

You heard about the men's group. That was a hoot!

We also had our experienced ladies group that wanted to gallop over fences. I must mention we had one brave gentleman attend that class. Now this particular group was composed of the "die hards" who have lived through many previous sessions so they knew what they were in for.

I always begin the classes with a group discussion, which gives me general information and insight as to the direction our session should take. After reviewing goals and issues with our 7 participants, we moved briskly up to the famous "Ridge Track." Before jumping, we practiced adjusting strides (balancing techniques). The riders were asked to demonstrate various sizes of canter to gallop and vice versa. As always this was done on a one on one basis. After everyone had completed his/her individual "go" (opening their very own personal can of worms) they were asked to set off in a group with the leader picking the pace and adding abrupt stops turns and zoom offs.

Needless to say, we had a few fly-bys, grunts and "I'm sorrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee's. OOPS! The riders are NOT allowed to use the "bale out, pass-by" system. This class demands that the riders understand how to stop their horses before a pass-by occurs. At this level, they are EXPECTED to be able to rate their horses. It follows that if riders have earned the right to go at the gallop they MUST be able to deal with, and control the consequences of, speed. Hence, the hours and hours of practice learning how to control the size of the stride and control issues. Remember...THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT THE GO IS THE WHOA!!!!!!!

Of course I hear a lot of "Well, he does this and he does that!" My answer to this experienced group? "Ride Better!"

So began the clean up squad and after we had made some adjustments, everyone jumped a few single fences to ensure they would stay together with the horses. Then, we set off to attack the drag lines at a reasonable pace, maintaining ORDER, size of stride, balance, and DISTANCES.

We also had a couple of horses that wanted to work on the very same elements - order, balance and keeping one's distance - without jumping. They followed the jumpers and had a very successful outing.

When I mention "Balance" all the time, I am referring mostly to pulling prevention and maintenance. Our riders need to have the ability to gallop (or trot or walk!) without their horses ripping their guts out, always feeling like they have to be in front.

After two hours of this, our riders all earned their gold stars for the day. This class will meet again soon for further excercises. Next time look out. We're going to the famous Bear Pit Line!

Friday, September 19, 2008

The American Eventing Championships

I am way behind on my blogging and I apologize to the huge following this thing seems to have. I am amazed at the reponses we are getting, and I am delighted you all are getting a kick out of this as I am having fun with the stories!

It took a week to pack the trailer for the week's journey to Illinois. Barbie, myself and the Devils finally got into the truck at 4 a.m. on Sunday Sept.7 and headed to HalfShire Farm in Atlanta - our first stop - to teach a clinic.The horses were put to bed in beautiful stables and had a nice, restful day. I taught until about 6.30 p.m. and also had a great day.

After the clinic, Barbie and I were traeted to some DELICIOUS Blueberry martinis that went down very easily.They were JUST the ticket, along with a delicious dinner our hostess gave us.We sang ourselves upstairs chez Jakes, had a wonderful shower, and I was FAST asleep within minutes.

The clock rang at 11.30 pm and we waddled out to the stables, loaded the horses once again and were on our way to Wayne,Illinois. Two Red Bulls,Three cups of coffee and lots of M&M's later we arrived at a VERY WET Lamplight Equestrian Center. It was POURING RAIN and FREEZING COLD!!!!

We unloaded the horses, bedded down all the stalls ect., gave then a short walk and went to bed ourselves in the trailer.Our trip was uneventful and we made it from Atlanta in about 13.5 hours as planned. All was well with the world.

We slept till 6pm or so fed the horses and went out to eat and back to bed. The horses looked well but a bit tired.

Next day we set everything up in the tackroom and had to use my great STEADFAST banner as a rain shield for the tackroom. It worked perfectly.We were very proud to have our sponsor support us in so many ways! The horses were all ridden round Lamplight and were fairly unfazed by the enormity of it all. We were allowed to ride in the competition rings, which I think was a big advantage for us.

I must tell you all what a miracle it is for me to have Barbie Reeser with me as a groom. She is meticulous and thoughtful and knows exactly what to do. All season we have been competing the three devils in the same division.That translates into at least 6 saddles and about 10 bridles to keep up with as well as ALL the other stuff. I have a BIG trailer and it was VERY FULL when we left! Everything bright and sparkling and in its place.Ha ,wait till then end of this blog!

We were ready to compete Peter Pan in his dressage the next day. He went very well. Peter is all business for such a young horse and we were delighted with his test but a bit dissapointed in the score, however I've found that this is usually the case when one is satisfied with a test. (I seem to do better when I come out of the ring moaning about something), which just shows you I still don't know what I am doing! Pickles and Next Dance got to practice another day.

Next day I had a bit of a mad dash to get 2 horses braided and one cross country ride in before 9 am, then zoom back across the road, change gears and get into Dressage clothes and remember the new test.

Pickles warmed up the VERY BEST he had EVER been, but sadly lots his confidence when crossing over to the competition ring and froze up in the ring to get the worst score of his 2008 season and also the worst score of my class. We were, alas...last.

Next Dance came out that afternoon and completed another good test. He had won the week before with a very good score so I was confident. Again, I was disappointed with a 21st place finish. I wanted to go home! But after whining, moaning and kicking myself around for a while, I got over it. Tomorrow was a new day... and we had a lot to do.

The next day Peter Jumped an immaculate cross country and show jumping round to finish on his dresage score in 8th place. It was POURING RAIN again. As I was in the prizes, I felt duty bound to my sponsor, STEADFAST, and to the event itself to stay for the awards but it meant I was an hour late for my cross country rides with Pickles and Harry (Next Dance).

I galloped Peter back to the barn. We had Harry and Pickles tied up for over an hour and quickly stipped off my hunting coat. On went the XC gear and then I zoomed over to the cross country across the road riding Pickles and ponying Harry. Fortunately, I was allowed to go - nearly an hour after my division had finished! All the junior riders were looking at this old granny obviously lost and out of her mind for being in the warm up at this time. :

"Miss Ward, you can go right now!" Oh great. Sure I'm ready. GULP!!!Fortunately, Pickles may be a wreck when it comes to Dressage but he's always ready to go XC. So, after only one warm-up jump we were at the start box. Pickles zoomed around in slick mud like a complete pro. He NEVER missed a beat - inside the time - a star. All was forgiven about the dressage. Any horse that can be that good under those circumstances is worth working with no matter how long it takes. I only wish it had been an advanced track!

"OK Miss Ward, we need you to go right now." This was about 8 horses after my ride on Pickles. We switched saddles.Zoom,jump,jump,jump.Clear,inside the time again.WOW.Harry had never dealt with mud before and handled it like a pro.Keyword...BIG STUDS and OUTSIDE REIN!

Next day Show Jumping.Another 8 inches of rain.Lamplight is a fabulous place and the rain made no difference to the track.Two clear rounds again.Harry (Next Dance) finished 9th and Pickles 22 from 46th or something.

All in all we were pleased with two top 10 finishes.I felt badly for Pickles nerves in the dressage but we have a new plan for next time.Again,any horse that jumps that well is worth the wait in the dressage ring.I shall put the noose away for another time.(the noose is for me ,not Pickles)God has a purpose for giving me Pickles.I suppose it is to teach me to be patient.Something I am not great at.One day,one day I am going to be able to ride him in dressage with a softer hand!Thank God for lady Clairol!

I Knew there would be a lot of very nice horses at the AEC"s and the dressage would be the issue.To be honest ,I wish the cross country had been more was to my great adavantage that the conditions were less than ideal as I have so much experience riding in mud from the UK and hunting.Thank God there were no injuries due to the conditions and I think the organizers were smart to pull the Cross country.I was very glad to be the last horse to go though!

After Show Jumping everything was soaking wet.It took me five minutes to peel the coat from my body back at the stables.Barbie and I cleaned what we could.Took care of the boys and stared to get ready for the ong journey home.

We had a FULL trailer of wet,dirty,stinky stuff.I always say eventing is like going to war.Though we definately felt like we won the didn't look that way in my trailer.It took about a week to get everything washed,folded and put away.The inside of my trailer had to be thoroughly pressurewashed!Barbie was on the go.No day off for her?(Barbie rarely takes any time off).So everything was put back in order and we're ready for the next one.

I must give a huge thanks to my Sponsor STEADFAST.Without their help I could not have gone to the AEC's.I was right on track with my budget.The trip was about Three Thousand Dollars.Hopefully I could do some small good for this great new product as I ceratinly chatted to many about it.If ever anyone gets the opportunity to attend one of their dinners,by all means do so.Not only will you have a great meal but its a terribly imformative evening for our horses sakes.please contact me or visit their website for more imformation.My horses are continuing to improve and I want to give the credit to STEADFAST!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Well folks we did it. Three brave men attendedthe famed "mens only" group of our Fox Hunter Safety Clinics. Now mind you, these are all very established gentlemen, fully ensconsed in their own time-consuming professions who gave up their Labour Day Monday for an early morning workout in the Hitchcock Woods.And what a workout it was......

A small aside. The initial session of these clinics is held in a lovely spot in the woods called Gaylord's Manage. Captain Gaylord was a tough taskmaster who taught all the children from the Aiken Prep School how to ride. What an honor to follow in his footsteps on such hallowed ground. Another reason to preserve tradition in our beautiful woods!

The men's clinic started with lots of talking as usual by me. My words were met with polite appreciation and nods in the beginning, which then lead to a few yawns and a few more nods and smiles. Then I got to the "Now let's try it" stage. This directive was met with a few grunts and kicks. Steering quickly became an issue as was size of stride and straightness of the horse. And there were a few balance issues that popped up. The men went around their small course at the walk, passing the test and were ready for Phase 2.

Up and down the hill they went and over and through our famous "starter ditch." I use this rather rough terrain as a training tool to check for balance and control issues and to make sure we can progress to Phase 3.

"OK men, now lets do all this at the posting trot!, I merrily suggested. One response was,"Whats that?" We were nearly an hour into the lesson and when I heard that I thought, Oh boy here we go. So we practiced the trot for a moment and everyone got it. They were ready to be released from the cage and practice their undulating course at the trot. Now, please keep in mind, we try hard not to leave any stones unturned. These men do not ride a lot (though I have to say one was quite experienced) so he had to be REALLY good or else!

The men were seriously working at their tasks and doing a very god job. However, it had become very clear to them that we were well past the time for polite nods and yawns. They were now in deep. Everything they had been forewarned about was rapidly becoming a reality. And don't forget - it was at least 99 degrees at this point. Purple was rapidly becoming the color of the day.....

We progressed onto another ditch and terrain question and culminated the day with a very long course combining both excercises making the men go all the way round the Show Grounds at a trot in a group!.This course took easily 5-6 minutes of serious concentration, steering, balancing, and control. And then.........they were asked if they were lucky or they were good. Of course the answer was the latter so my answer was "right then do it again!"And off they went a second time proving their skills and improving their confidence.

By this time, a sizeable audience had materialized. There were huge cheers for our men. They were amazing and I was very proud of them all. What an honor it is to have this opportunty to teach these people. Our safety clinics really are great fun.

These men have two more sessions to go...can't wait to get to cantering!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Need to Keep Practicing

I went for my jumping lessons with high hopes and a trailer full of bright, shiny horses due to Barby's hard work. We were very excited to go jumping with Micheal Tokaruk, a sucessful Grand Prix show jumper based here in Aiken.

The day before was not ideal. It was Barby's day off. Now I have become very very spoiled with Barby around. She hands me horses all day long and takes care of everything in between. When she is gone, I can't find anything and it takes me all day to get anything done. Needless to say, I got hung up with various issues around the farm and put my horses off 'till the end of the day. Thinking they would be easy to ride and I would have enough time to prep them for my upcoming lessons, which meant a lot to me. Boy, was I wrong... Then the rain came, and with it lots of lightening so I couldn't ride my horses. Well, I thought, they'll be good. They know how to jump, don't they?

Next Dance exited the trailer with smoke shooting out both nostrils. Michael had never met the Three Devils before, and I had descibed Next Dance as a "real softee." He was, of course, the complete opposite. It's a very good thing I know how to sit back in the saddle as his devilish horns were protruding so far out of the top of his head it was by pure luck that I was not impaled. We did not progress beyond two cross rails. Micheal was very polite.

Peter Pan was next. Our first exercise was a 2 ft.high cross rail with a small flower box underneath. He jumped it so high I nearly fell off. You get the picture.

Next comes Pickles, whom I had described to Michael as being my most difficult horse. He was the only good one. I was allowed to jump a course.

And then there was Riverdance. My Superstar. Michael had seen River in a previous clinic and thought a lot of him. Thought he'd make a serious equitation horse. A huge compliment. Well I was SO SURE I would redeem myself with him. He was a MONSTER!!! I was asked to jump with one hand behind my back so I wouldn't use my hands so much - a very good excercise that I hadn't used in ages. But, I have to tell you, it felt like I was about seven years old and back in pony club! Certainly by now I MUST be allowed to ride with two reins don't you think? (Obviously not!)

In conclusion, I had a great time as it is always an honor to ride with someone so experienced at their craft. Michael was VERY kind and kept his horror to himself. It just goes to show... don't get too big for your breeches hotshot.

I headed for home with my tail very far between my legs. After beating myself up for the 20 minute drive, I then got on a wonderful 15 hand Indian Chief here at the farm that made me feel like a star. I could actually jump 2'6" without a pull. There was hope...

The point is simple. If you are going to go have a big day somewhere - an event, a show, lesson, a hunt, or even a group ride with friends, you'd best be prepared. Don't skip your horses. Don't leave any stones unturned. I shan't soon forget that lesson. Michael look out, I'm coming back!