Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When you least expect it...

The new location - peace and productivity 
To say that I feel like I've been stuck in a tornado, would be a bit of an understatement.  The move in January was the start of a new chapter in both my personal and professional life.  I was able to clear out some personal relationships that were quite toxic, and open up time for travel and self reflection.

Prophet may have a slightly lower-speed life now, but he still
fits like a glove.  Thanks to Dana Sanders for letting me
cruise from time to time. 
For the first time in years, I've found myself without the responsibility of an upper level horse.  The commitment to competing at the upper levels is one of extreme time and financial monopoly. The young horses that have filled my time this year are some of the most talented horses I've had the pleasure of sitting on, but they don't require the hours of careful planning and management that Prophet did (and granted he was/is and ultra-princess).  So I've traveled, I've done things I never would have thought I'd do, and I have goals on the horizon that I wouldn't have thought would be possible. 

And now I'm more excited about the future then I ever have been.  

First on my personal life front... I recently had someone send me a message about how I never know who might be affected by what I write.  For that end, I'm happy that I've 'aired some laundry' about my divorce and the affects it has had on my professional life.  I'm quite a private person, but I also have a very blurry line between my personal and professional world: therefore, they
Catching some C-Horse fun in Houston, Texas
definitely effect one another, both negatively and positively.  Without going into detail, I will say that learning to define who is toxic in my life (friends/clients/etc), and being ok with letting those contacts slide away into oblivion has been the most refreshing
A little family fun with new friends and the polo match
process.  A process that has opened up my life for much more positive relationships to fill their space. 

New family member - Lilly Ann Sitton
I've also been enjoying the ability to be a little selfish and make decisions based solely on what I want.  One of those decisions being the addition of Lilly Ann to the Sitton clan.  She was a lost soul at a rescue and I couldn't let her stay there any longer.  She may be deaf, and a little wild, but she makes me a happier person every day. 

On to the professional side of things... A wise man once told me that a horse professional NEVER needs to own their own horses.  With Prophet being leased out and the sale of several horses last year, I have found myself with a barn full of amazing horses, owned by amazing people, who are not me.  I do have my 'old man' Rockie (who I teach lessons on), and one baby TB stuck out in a field, but my competition horses all have owners, and I (along with my bank account) have been  loving that. 

BUT I found myself on Facebook, just a week and a half ago, asking for a video of a mare (GASP) who was grey (DOUBLE GASP), and I had no idea what possessed me to do so.  Five short days later, I was drawing out large sums of cash, and hitting the road for an overnight roadtrip to Tennessee. It was love at first site, and when she had a bit of choke on the trailer ride home (aka prophet) I knew she was the one for me.
New Girl!  Mimi or Mimosa Sunrise

So now I have a horse of my own again.  And my bank account is crying a bit. And I am loving snuggling with her big head and sitting in her field as I absorb the fact that she is all mine. 

The fall schedule looks to be a busy one.  We have lots of shows for the C-Horse Crew, I have a few clinics to teach, and lots of traveling on the books.  Mimi will be spending the fall putting on weight and muscle and I will be focused on opening up my life for the chances that come when you least expect it.
She's got a pretty alright way of going. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Move is (Almost) Complete

A few months ago I began stressing about the direction my business was headed, and the ways for it to grow.  In my productive stressing (I like to think that my stress is productive - because, why else would I do it?!?), I came to the conclusion that I needed to step back from the day-to-day feeding/management, in order to focus on students and horses and helping them to achieve their goals.  The conclusion was a move to Hidden Spring Farm - a beautiful facility where I already have a long-time relationship with the owners, manager, and clients. All sounds peachy, right? Here's a little timeline on how things have gone.

December 29th - After stressing about how my current barn owners would handle the news, I found my worries to be for naught.  they were fully supportive and great.  HUGE sigh of relief, and a big glass of wine to celebrate the direction of C-Horse being solidified.

January 4th - Sit down with new barn manager and already dear friend to begin hashing out the plan of moving 14 horses.  20 minutes later - we are celebrating how easy our plan came to fruition and so we pour a glass of wine.

January 6th - First load of 5 horses pull out of Wynnscott and into HSF.  Introductions are uneventful.  We celebrate.

January 8th - Two of the four horses owned by client K.K. are shipped to her house.  They are youngsters.  We have to walk 1/4 mile down a road.  I'm worried.  They are perfect.  We celebrate.

January 9th - K.K.'s other two horses are shipped to HSF.  Introductions go great. I ride several horses at HSF.  People take a lesson, just because I'm available.  I love it.  We celebrate.

January 11th - The last of the horses move over. All is right in the world.  Everyone seems happy.  The baby boys played so hard they fell down, and then chilled out.  I spend 4 hours loading my equipment at Wynnscott.... and I'm not finished.  No celebration.

January 13th - Take load of stuff and start unloading.  Wondering where the heck Ally is, cause I sure as heck could use her.  It's raining.  I hate how much stuff I have.  No celebration.

January 14th - It's iced below the Mason-Dixon Line.  Schools are closing, there are special news reports about the apocalypse, the vet is coming to do coggins and Xray van's knees.  The horses are happy, Van got two thumbs up.  I still have more stuff to load.  Instead of celebrating, I write a blog entry.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Next chapters

So Kentucky didn't go as planned, but my re-affirmed sense of worth and drive to make-up for that long walk back to the box fueled my fire to make the trip to Knoxville Tennessee to attend one last event of the season at River Glen.

Hard to believe that this will be the last picture taken of the two of us on a xc course
Without much fuss or fanfare, P went out, put down his head and won the event - start to finish.  He is nothing short of amazing, and every day I thank my lucky starts for those big brown eyes and soft nose with the kissing spot.

BUT - the long drive home gave me a long time to think.  Usually I spend it singing to the radio and generally annoying everyone within ear shot, but this time I was by myself, with a quite truck and a busy mind.  P turns 17 in 2015.  Eleven years he's been my rock.  He's sound, he's happy, he made me a successful upper level rider with placings at Preliminary and Intermediate levels.  This last year he ran 5 times - pulled in in Kentucky, one 3rd, one 2nd, and two wins.  He has nothing left to prove.  Is it worth the money, the risk, and the time to keep running him around, just for my pleasure?

When I posed the question to my wise mother, her answer was the one I knew in my heart... NO.

So with a heavy heart I found myself on a plane, flying back east from my hometown, pondering the future for the brown boy who has been the biggest part of my past.  To stomach the decision I'd just made, I needed to have the wheels rolling on big plans for both of us. For P, a student who happens to be in the right place in her life, during the right time for him seems to be the obvious choice (hopefully more on that in the coming weeks). And for me, there's another pair of brown eyes that I'm throwing my heart at in the hopes that he can step up to fill P's incredibly large, talented shoes.

So, meet Van - or Exclusive Print.  Van reluctantly came into my life last February.  He'd been basically abandoned at a New York race barn, and I shipped him and another horse down to see what they'd do.  The other horse was a war horse - racing until 8, and selling quite quick to move on into hunterland.  Van on the other hand was fairly sure that humans were not nice, and refused to be caught, became violent (even under sedation) to anyone trying to touch his ears.  So I didn't touch him - until he said he was ready.  He's now gone on hacks, walks and trots quietly in the ring, and allows me to put on his bridle without much fuss.  His place in my heart is growing and I can't wait to see what he becomes!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

No fairy tale endings

As I look back at the last post I made, 10 months ago, about Ted's passing, I still have to fight hard to hold back tears. My life since then has been a roller coaster ride, to say the least. During that time, I was slowing making the decision to leave my marriage.  It was a peaceful parting, with both of us deciding that we were simply better off as friends.  As smooth as the process has gone, the changes it has brought in my life are unimaginable.

I found myself single at 30, and a little lost.  Not sure who I was after 7 years of being someone else's half, I've struggled to find myself, and my confidence.The one consistent thing has been my horses, especially Prophet, and they gave me a reason to get up in the mornings.

P's sense of what I needed has been unreal.  When I got married, he came down with some serious ulcers - I think he was trying to tell me something. :)  With the split, he dealt with me crying into is mane, just like I've done several times before (having a horse for 10 years means he's gone through a few breakups).  After years and years of being anorexic, he started eating with vengeance, giving me one less thing to worry about.  His training rides many times were midnight hacks or bareback flats, because at the end of the day I couldn't physically or mentally handle much more than that.  As I loaded him into the trailer for the first event of the season, I whispered to him that if he was going to be the end of my marriage, he better make it worth it (only half way kidding).  He stormed around that event to finish 1st, and it gave me another reason to get up in the morning.

His second event was right as the weather had started to get better, but we still hadn't jumped much, and I was still struggling to find a constant life schedule.   He once again held my hand, ate all his food all weekend, and finished 2nd.

And I kept getting up in the morning.

By the time I got to the third event of the season, I'd started to feel human again (a mere 6 months later).  The temps were frightfully high, we ran xc in the middle of the day heat, our show jumping was in the middle of a complete downpour, and my horse brought me through for a 3rd place finish.

Although I no longer needed him to give me a reason to get up - I was glad to have it.

I made the decision to head to my favorite place in the world, Lexington, KY for the CCI*.  We've been qualified to run one for about 4 years now, so I figured it was about time.  There was a certain sense of pride as I trotted around the dressage arena in my shad, and heard them announcing the accolades from this year... not a bad record to say the least.  But as much as my little man fought through the slushy arena, the dressage judges weren't feeling his little TB trot, or my blingy belt.  :) Disappointed in my score, but excited to move onto the second day, I fed my guy a few extra treats and went to bed.

The footing was perfect, and P felt amazing in warm-up.  He came out of the box and made the first 6 fences feel like I was flying - even the one combination on course I was worried about.  But fence 7 was a turning AB question, where I knew that we needed to jump the massive table a little soft to make a good turn to the upright corner.  P had other thoughts, leaving out a stride and hitting the table hard.  We somehow made the turn to the corner on the end of the reins, but he didn't feel quite right galloping away.  Not sure whether he'd bruised his ego or something more serious, I jumped a few more fences with mixed results.  Once he put on the breaks to the coffin, I knew I wasn't in a position to kick him around the rest of the decently sized course.  I got him to take a breath (he gets upset when he stops), and faced it once again, only to have my horse with the heart the size of Texas tell me that today was not our day.  I put up my hand to retire and began the long walk back to the vet box.  About half way back my little guy got pissed - like, really pissed.  My usually docile, hunter-like pony, was a prancing, snorting, dragon - eager to get out there and redeem himself.

 I on the other hand, used that long walk (jig) through the bluegrass to put some things into perspective.  I was sitting on this jigging, fired up, pissed off horse, who had carried me through an absolutely terrible low point of my life.  And now the pressure could be off him.  So what if we didn't get to wear our pretty jog outfit the next morning.  He was healthy, he was hungry and he wanted more.  So we'll re-route to River Glen for one final run of the season.

For all those supporters who I've been slack about returning emails or phone calls, I truly apologize.  I am so appreciative of all my clients, friends, and sponsors who have helped me re-route my life. There's no way I could have made it through to the 'other side' without you. Thank you all, and an especially large thanks to my little bay, big-eyed pony.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Balladeer Ted 1993-2013

I realize I've been totally slack at finishing my updates for 2013.  I apologize and promise to do so (at least before the 2014 season gets started).  I have been a bit overwhelmed by the holidays, and by the huge loss of our big chestnut superstar, Ted.  I figured my ode to him was a bit more important than an update so here it is:

For many years, I’ve made the trip to Kentucky to watch in awe as the amazing, powerful, fragile, four-legged creatures galloped across the bluegrass.  That last weekend of April brings memories of the greats who have come through those finish flags… Courageous Comet, Molokai, Biko, Theodore O’Connor, Custom Made, and the list goes on… But each year many accomplished, lesser known horses gallop through those lanes and achieve what so many of us can only dream about - jumping the final fence and completing the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event.  

If only I’d have known what the future held, I would have looked a little closer for a big white star and glistening copper coat to come galloping by while I was attending the event in 2005 (the last year of the full format at Kentucky).  A year and a half later I found myself in the right working student position at the right time, and was handed the reins for the ride on Balladeer Ted… that beautiful chestnut with the big star, floppy ears, and droopy lower lip.  

At that point, it was determined that Ted would no longer make a potential team horse for Canada, but he did have a lot to offer me in education at the upper levels (as long as I could manage his soundness).  I was in complete awe as Rebecca Howard handed over his passport.  Stamps from Blenheim, Bramham, Rolex, Fairhill, and countless other events filled the pages.  He was also the recipient of the Zeppa International Trophy at Rolex (which is always cool to see in the Rolex program every year).   I was sure that this horse had forgotten more than I will ever know, and then he promptly dumped me over a beginner novice log during our first jump school.  Like so many upper level guys, his list of quirks was longer than his list of events in his passport, and one of them was that you could not stop riding… ever.  

For two seasons, he held my hand as I made some mistakes and learned from his vast knowledge.  At the Fork, he taught me that I really needed to make a decision about which side of the tree we’d be going after the bounce bank; at Paradise he informed me that we had two different ideas about what a coffin canter was; and  in Ocala he let me feel what a real gallop felt like.  I’d had one upper level horse before him, who was also awesome in his own right, but Ted knew exactly what I did and didn’t know, and he would fill in the gaps with only a slight eye roll in my direction.  

Ted was a talker, and a very effective communicator to those who would listen.  After a big move in my life where Ted was out of the competition program for a couple months, he told me in his own way that he was ready to retire.  Once that decision was made in 2008, I only sat on him a handful of times.  I think he felt a certain level of pressure from me, and the stress of knowing he couldn’t perform physically would bother him.  Instead of me, it was my non-horsey husband who would take the reins, and Ted taught him to post the trot, how to ride a buck in the canter, and would politely yet firmly inform all of us when a ride was finished.  

A few years ago, Ted’s health started to deteriorate.  A lifetime of strenuous activity had taken its toll on his body, and I had begun to prepare myself for the day that I’d have to say goodbye.  He would have a bit of a bad spell, but would bounce back, just as strong as ever.  He was our celebrity around the barn, as none of the other horses had achieved even half of what he had in his lifetime and we all cherished every moment that was given to us.  

This is exactly what I whispered to him as we walked through his painful spell of colic a few weeks ago.  I told him that he’d done things and seen things that very few horses ever get to, and for that reason and so many more, he would always have a special place in my heart.  I wanted to think that this bad spell was one he’d bounce back from, but a few days later, it was apparent that this time it was different.  Surrounded by a group of people who loved and respected him so much, Ted crossed the rainbow bridge to gallop without pain.  

Ted is one of the hundreds of horses who have not only conquered the upper levels, but gone on to pass their knowledge to younger riders.  I feel honored to have learned the things that his previous riders instilled in him, and hope I do him justice by passing along that knowledge to my current horses and students.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


You know, not that long ago, I'd have been tickled pink to have two horses sitting in prime ribbon position going into the final day of a competition. 

But here's the thing.... My horses are way nicer than what I see on the scoreboard today. 

Let me start with prophet, since my world sort of rises and falls with him... Last night when we arrived, he felt pretty close to amazing, and this morning he felt pretty close to flat. He finally started to put it together when I suddenly realized I'd looked at the wrong dressage test. Here's me halting in warm-up, trying to watch the rider in front of me to learn my test. Once we made the turn onto center line off the grass and onto screening and the glaring sun, it was all I could do to kick him in front of my leg. When I got my test back, our marks ranged from 4-8, which is pretty much how the test rode. One of the 4's was for that damned stretch over center line which I thought was a lengthening (remember, I watched the person in front to me to learn). We ended the phase on a 36.1 to sit in 4th. 

When I went to watch show jumping, the carnage forced me away... The nagging voice in my head kept reminding me I haven't really jumped in a month. Luckily my horse is awesome and carried me around, although he was a little flat to 2 and 3 pulling two unlucky rails which are not characteristic of him. But, again, we haven't jumped in a month - can I really blame him? 

So now I sit here listening to pete snore and making a plan for p to fill the holes I've created by not devoting the time I need to Into his training. This is a familiar pep talk I have with myself as he makes it so easy to skate along... Until its not. 

Flashy and I have been filling so many holes lately that I need to buy an extra shovel. And I like what is happening.... Except for last night where my little naughty kid spent an hour being hard in the back, hard in the sides, hard in the mouth and pretty much saying "f*ck you". This morning he woke up on a better side of the bed, putting in a decent dressage, with marks ranging from 5-9(!), and scoring a 29.1. Definitely left some marks on the table by not pushing for 'more' but that's ok. Show jumping he was quite good to leave them all up and actually get 2 time penalties... My new way of riding him has slowed him down too much!!! So, not much I would have changed about flash's ride, except to get more out of him, but at least I feel like my plan is working. 

So tomorrow both boys have Xc, where flash has a straight forward romp thru the field with a bit of a question at the water, and p has a pretty damned serious preliminary track. Like, for real serious.  I just keep telling myself that this horse has grown up, and does things now cause he's learned to trust me and our relationship, but when I walk up on questions like the one below, I can't help but think of that gangly track baby that wouldn't go down the hill to the puddle at our first event. 

I'm off to walk the boys around in the dark and enjoy this little bit of alone time with my kids. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

The long and winding road with Diddy

I think we look good together :) 
A little over 9 years ago, I drove into the backside of Indiana Downs with a trailer and $1000.  Off to the scary Italian-mobster-like trainer's barn I went where he showed me 5 or so horses that I could have for that price.  Even though this bay thing was still in wraps from his last race, something about his face, and the little white button on the end of his nose told me he was the one.

Although I probably should have regretted that decision - after years of illness, special management, 6 meals a day, vet bills, well-respected pros telling me to get rid of him -  I show up at the barn every day so grateful that my 'first husband' greets me with his little hoarse whisper of a whinny.

He truly has taught me so much about riding, horse management, and loving unconditionally (me loving him -- he only shows his love for me when it benefits him. :).  We've been through some tough times where I was sure his goals didn't coincide with mine, but we've made it though and 9 years later, we are better partners than ever.

Prophet's first show! 
A wise employer of mine once told me that in order to do any level of cross country, that the horse has to want it just as much as the rider does, and that she wasn't so sure that Prophet wanted it at all.  There's definitely been moments where I've felt that might have been true, but at the time, I had no other option but to keep trying with him - plus he told the psychic he was concerned I was sad and that made me promise I'd never get rid of him. At the lower levels, P would randomly decided that XC wasn't for him, and would leave me cursing in front of small children.  However every since I moved P up to the upper levels (3 or so years), he's figured out this game and he wants it - maybe not like a lot of traditional event horses but enough that we are safe and semi-successful.  

But (there's always a but, right?) I feel like his desire comes from my desire therefore I feel a heightened level of responsibility to make sure that I never put him in a compromised situation (unlike Flash, who does whatever the h*ll he feels like, whether I want to or not! :).  So... here comes my revelation, and it's not one that probably means anything to anyone else but me, but I needed a blog topic for this Monday!

He wanted to jump bit way back then! 
P doesn't owe me anything, so it's time we have some fun.  He's not going to be an Advanced horse.  Not to say that we couldn't get around an Advanced level course, but that's not something I want to 'just get around'.  He's given me a couple of top 5 placings at Intermediate, and I hope for several more, but I'm going to be very selective about the courses I choose.  Plus, prelim jumps are big enough to have fun over without the green feeling tummy.

My sweet boy
AND we are going to do other fun stuff.  Goals for the rest of the year include getting our BLING on going western pleasure at the Thoroughbred Celebration Horse Show (in addition to dressage, jumpers, and a CT), AND participating in the $10,000 Hunter Derby at the Duke Benefit H/J show.  We also will be going to Georgia to run around a preliminary, and hopefully making the drive across NC to run Intermediate in the mountains of River Glen.

Pretty much I'm going to have the best time I can with my amazingly awesome boy and not put so much pressure on ourselves. 

p.s.  We'll be doing a pretty cool t-shirt fundraiser for the Duke show - details to be announced soon!