Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fruits of Our Labor

Riding is about horses, but the horse industry is all about the people.  I work hard to make our barn a safe, drama-free community where riders get a break from the stress and emotions of daily life.  I dare say, the teenagers need this as much, if not more than, the adult amateurs.

I’m sure this goes back to my own teenage years. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Overtime, the big event horse I leased throughout high school, went a long way towards channeling my wild-child side. And as important as Overtime, Diane and Fred Peterson, his owners, became my “horse show parents.” They filled the roll of the “cool adults” in my life.  You know, that person who magically shows up with logical advice about the time your parents become impossible, illogical humans you are forced to live with until college.  Without their help, who knows how I would have turned out.

I try to return the favor. I try to be the listening ear when needed and to be the giver of sage, or not-so-sage, advice (don’t change yourself for anyone, learn to drive while eating ice cream, live life for the stories as well as the goals), and sometimes some of it sticks.   

Teenagers have a habit of growing up.  One of the kids from years past is already married with 2 kids, and three others are tying the knot in 2012.  Last weekend I attended one of the weddings.  I haven’t seen Victoria since last June, but the warm reception from both her and her parents confirmed I was as important to Victoria as Diane and Fred were to me. I admit I am sentimentally happy to have been a part of her, and frankly, all of my horse teenagers growing-up years.

I stayed in the area and judged a fix-a-test the next day, and her father stopped by to show me the latest award that had arrived from USDF. “The fruits of your labor,” he called it. 

“No,” I corrected him, “a good grown-up is the fruits of our labor.” 

And that really is how I see it.  My horses, and the people that surround them, inspire me every day to be not only the best rider I can be, but a more compassionate, understanding person. If I can help pass a little bit of this on to our next generation, hopefully they will remember the lessons, both in and out of the stirrup.  

They say it takes a village to raise a child, I'm glad I can be part of that community. Congratulations Victoria and Angel, Samantha and Ryan, and Lisa and Skylar, and I wish you all many happy years together. Now it's your turn to be the village for the next group of young people trying to become good grown-ups. 


Monday, March 19, 2012

The calm before the storm

Like any business, the horse business has its busy times and its slow times.  My slow times seem to be rather limited the last few years – January is usually pretty quiet, but by February the winter short-term training horses usually arrive, which means busy, but busy at home.  In March and April our area usually has some pretty fun clinics, involving busy days, but again, mostly I get to sleep in my own bed.  But then, in April show season picks up, and things roll along until the first weekend in November.

Which means right now I am enjoying the calm before the storm. But I’m not so sure Amy and Kelsey are…

Because when I have time, I think too much, and come up with lots of great ideas, which, of course, trickle down to Amy and Kelsey’s job lists.  The big items in the last two weeks have been organizing, leveling stalls, and parasite management.

Working for a red-headed hyper type-A dressage geek means that down time usually means organize.  I HATE looking for things, and with 22 horses, keeping things neat is a daily challenge.  Hence whenever SFD has down-time, I pull out my p-touch label maker and go nuts. Everything needs a place, and if things return to their place, then the order in our tack room defies the disorder in my thoughts. 

With the spring organizing comes the spring pitch-session. We did a respectable job getting things clean before the clinic, but now I’m taking it a step further.  The back cubbies get sorted out and extra stuff stored up stairs, taken to Equine Exchange, or tossed.  Systems for efficient storage need purchased and put into place.  That squirt bottle that we don’t use because it sticks now lives in the garbage instead of on top of the water heater. Clutter goes away. 

The stalls also get addressed this time of year. I don’t care for stall mats, which means we must routinely add screenings to keep stalls level.  When we are in there, we also spray the walls down with dilute bleach to kill any ascarids that may be using a stall for breeding – which is part of our parasite program.

A big part of the worm program is the spring pasture cleaning. So far, we have cleaned 3 of our 10 smaller fields completely and are picking them weekly.  On the 1st, I’ll rent a big trailer and everyone will pitch in to get the two huge pastures cleaned.  I do this because worms can’t breed inside of the host, which means if we can eliminate Mr. Parasite from meeting Mrs. Parasite in our fields, then there are less expecting Mrs. Parasites to re-infest our fields, and then re-infest our horses. 

I have been picking paddocks and pastures as long as SFD has been around, and it has paid off. This year we did fecal counts on all of the horses, and (yes, I am bragging here) any horse that has been in my care for more than a year was essentially clean.  Which means we only need to worm these guys twice this year, and save the stress that worming products put on their systems and on the environment.

Then, on April 7, the show season begins. And Amy and Kelsey can get a break.  I'm sure they are looking forward to it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Clinic Preparations

I like riding in clinics. Investing in my education is really important to me. I enjoy seeing what another dressage pro does with the raw material I work with every day, having an additional set of eyes to catch the inevitable training holes from working on my own, and getting to meet other  like-minded horse folks. 

I was helping one of my endurance friends (she rides 100 miles. Seriously. 100 miles is for cars.) at a race, and someone complained about something, I really don’t remember what, and my friend replied “you really don’t have the right to complain until you have organized a race.”  I thought that was sage advice, so I try to host at least one clinic a year. Because let me tell you, hosting is very different than riding.

This year, again in partnership with OVCTA, we are hosting Phebe DeVoe, a popular ‘r’ judge and FEI trainer based in MD. I like Phoebe a lot, her positive attitude and fun personality make her great to stable near at shows. 

The clinic is this Saturday, and it is full with a waiting list (YEA!) and we expect auditors. So of course, the spring cleaning has commenced. This is also our first major event at our new home, so we want everything to look really spiffy.

Amy and Kelsey have been sweeping, scrubbing, and organizing.  Our barn has stalls at the end of the indoor, with overhead hay storage, which Kelsey creatively stacked it into stadium seating.  We moved the winter blanket storage to make room for refreshments. I made myself stay inside part of this GORGEOUS week to make a schedule and a program and a blog about the clinic. I took the opportunity to purchase a wireless headset system to the riders can clearly hear Phoebe.  I have been prepping my students as to how to prioritize their warm-up, how to stay organized and on time as you get ready, and how to get a tail really, really clean. 

So it is now Friday, day before the clinic, and SFD is pretty much ready.  All we have left to do is the final arena footing prep and make the order-of-event sheet for the staff (yea, I’m anal like that). And post a blog and constant contact. And make sure Phoebe and the auditors lunch is picked up. And ride. Oh yea, ride.

I actually get a bit more nervous for clinics than I do for competition – clinicians evaluate my training process, judges judge the finished product.  The “finished product” includes factors the horse brought with it when they arrived in training – genetics, previous training, inherent crookedness, etc. so I feel like I am responsible for about 50% of the score.  But the training process? That’s all on me.

This time, my barn organization and stable management are also on display, an additional stress absent from clinics I trailer out to. 

At this point, 24-hours from start time, my attitude towards clinic organizers is one of amazement. How do they do this if they work a full-time job and don’t have an Amazing Amy or a Kick-butt Kelsey to help? I am suddenly quite patient that the ride times aren’t available until the week of the clinic and that the parking isn’t clearly marked.

So my friend was right, organizing a clinic does cure all complaints.

Let the rides begin!