Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Little Help from my Friends, Part 1

This last year has been a little crazy, even by my standards. We moved the barn to a winter home, then to our permanent home, then last month Doug and I moved ourselves into the cottage on the farm. Here's a few blogs about it all:

     First, last November. How was the move? Well....
     Then in June, SFD has a New Home
     Then July, What Have you Been up to? Well...

Now that things have settled down a bit, I find my mind wandering dangerously close to sentimental thoughts about SFD’s amazing community. They kept our barn afloat while we navigated some stressful seas. This blog is part one of a thank-you to these wonderful people.  If stress brings out people’s true characters, then this year showed me that SFD is made up of some truly wonderful people.

This summer, at a show, a member of the SFD family had a lousy day. We’ve all had them, those days when nothing goes right, and at a show, it seems even worse. I was standing at an uphill vantage point, and I watched as other members of the SFD community literally surrounded her and gave her a listening ear, words of encouragement, and all the moral support that a good barn is supposed to give. It was an awesome moment for me -- SFD operating as a supportive, nurturing community.  That was my goal when I hung my shingle 6 years ago.  Learning this sport is hard, on both physical and emotional levels, and a community of caring friends that understand makes finding the joy in the journey easier.

Even before that day, I knew that SFD is not about me, it is about everyone. SFD has grown beyond the original 9-stall barn, and beyond the fences of the SFD barn itself.  Every pull-in lesson student, every off-farm location student, is embraced as family when we meet at events.  I find this really, really cool.

This didn’t happen by accident, or as a solo act. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without help, as I am the queen of too-many-ideas-and-not-enough-time.  Two people in particular wandered in when I really needed their help. 

When SFD moved to Red Bridge in 2008, we decided to expand SFD to include student’s horses. Previously, I only took care of horses in training with me.  When Doug and I made the decision to expand, I was worried about two things – was I organized enough to keep everyone informed and the paperwork together, and do I have the personality to keep the barn functioning as a group?

Cheryle has been my solution to the first question. When she came on as a boarder, she filled out her paperwork with such attention to detail, I knew I was in the presence of a much more organized mind than my own.  Offering her the position of “office hero” was a no-brainer. Her constantly cheerful tone and much-better organization skills have gone a long way to keeping everyone informed of going-ons at the barn. Plus she happily keeps our records organized, a skill I, frankly, don’t want to take the time to get good at. She says she enjoys bookkeeping. That just doesn’t seem normal to me…

The second solution came a few months later, in Linda. One big concern I had when I started allowing student-boarders is clicks. To some degree, as a group gets larger, clumping-by-friendships is unavoidable, but I really didn’t want to have SFD divided along the “those who show” and “those who don’t.” Linda’s camera skills help draw the non-competing members into the show stories, and her party-organizing skills really help us gel as barn.  

Additionally, Linda came to dressage as an adult, so she understands the emotional ups-and-downs of the adult beginner, and is down right empathic about helping others through the emotional ropes of learning to ride, and then to show. Her tact and well-timed kind words offset my rather sarcastic communication style.  Plus she can organize all of the details of a show weekend, down to dinner reservations. 

So here’s a big thank-you to you two. I would be lost without you.

Monday, October 24, 2011

BLM Finals, 2011

On October 12, we loaded up Secret, Flash, Basil and James, along with their accompanying humans, and headed to the Garden State Classic/BLM Finals at NJ Horse Park.  Secret and I were slated for the 3rd level Championship, Flash was entered in training level to continue learning to show, and Basil was making his dressage debut.

Living here in Region 1, so close to the boarder of Region 8, we have our pick of championship shows to attend. It seems like every year, either BLM Finals or Region 1 gets rained on. For the past few years, I’ve luckily picked the dry show. Not this year.

 This was Saturday, after the footing had  a day to dry out.
The mud is still up to her coronet band.
After all of the careful planning, calculated training agendas, well-timed shoeing and massage appointments, etc., Secret’s score in the championship class was determined by Mother Nature.  Thursday night the show grounds were flooded with rain, leaving the competition rings a slurry of sandy mud. 

Secret hates mud. Mud makes her tense.  Tension makes her over-reactive. She hates mud on her tummy. So she goes faster. She hates mud on her nose.  So she holds her neck high and tight, like the knight in a game of chess.

Again from Saturday. Chess piece neck, but still a
recognizable half-pass, even from the side.
Needless to say, being ran away with by an over-reactive chess piece isn’t exactly the dressage ideal, so her championship ride didn’t work out like we had hoped.  The judges comments were kind, and the scores were appropriate.   

The neat thing is Secret had one of her championship judges again the next day in her two open classes. As the footing dried out, Secret’s relaxation improved, and so did her scores.  Having the same judge 3 rides in a row, with each ride being very, very different,  and seeing that reflected in the scores tells me that the judge judged what she saw each ride.  As a competitor, I can’t ask for anything more. 

By Sunday, Mother Nature had returned Secret’s sunshiny personality, and her score was back up where it has been all season.  With the exception of the championship class, Secret placed well against the warmbloods, bringing home a fifth and two thirds. 

Check it out - completely airborn.
Flash, on the other hand, seems to be a mudder.  Her reaction to the mud on her tummy was to bounce higher.  Linda caught an awesome photo of Flash with all four feet off of the ground.  Her bouncing brought home the a red ribbon.

Unfortunately, Flash put so much into bouncing out of the mud that her back became more and more tired as the weekend progressed.  Her back fatigue showed in her scores, which weren’t as high as the last show, but she was much more ridable in every class, which is no small feat for the turbo-pinto mare.  She was also much more relaxed overall  at this show—we could ride every class without needing a ring-side equine baby sitter.  Flash has really learned how to show this season. I’ll focus on getting her back stronger over the winter, and we’ll see what next season brings.

It's a little out of focus, but what an amazing canter!
Basil didn’t compete until Saturday, and by then Friday’s blustery wind had dried the footing considerably.  He is a super young man, with a laid-back workman-like personality and a body built for dressage. He handled all of the show chaos like a seasoned veteran, and was obedient and willing in both tests. He scored mid 60’s in both classes, tying for second on Saturday and bringing home blue on Sunday.  Rebecca and Dennis bred Basil as a family project. The pride in their eyes at watching their baby grow up was really fun to be a part of.

SFD students have also been rocking the show ring recently.  Rebecca and James ended a strong first season with a good BLM show, Kristen and Clyde brought home red from the Thorncroft event, Alexa and Mi Alma had a great ride at Devon and were FCDA intro level and thoroughbred champions, Jess and Mo brought home ribbons from FCDA, and I’ve heard rumors that Paige aboard Maggie and Ericka aboard Stella have been cleaning up over fences.  Plus I can’t forget Bethany and Willy who have been tearing it up at the medieval mounted games events.  Dressage cross trains into other disciplines so well, but more of that in a later blog. I have asked several students to write a few paragraphs; I’m sure we’ll hear from them soon.   

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Coming Soon

Dear Blog,

I am sorry. I have been neglecting you.  Between boxing up the house, moving the house, un-boxing the house, competing and attending Dressage at Devon, a wonderful weekend visit from my closest friend, and BLM finals this weekend, I just haven't given you the time you deserve. But as the old Willy Nelson song goes, "you were always on my mind." So brace yourself, soon, very soon, all of the ideas bouncing around in my head will flesh-out the outlines saved on my phone. I promise, your time of neglect will end very soon.

Your over-scheduled Blog-Writer.