Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ho-Ho-Holy Holiday Card, Batman!

Does anyone else include their horses in their holiday card?  Or am I the only weird one in that respect?  I can't be, right?  I've seen the holiday shots in the horse magazines, clearly I can't be the only one who puts a Santa hat on her pony and then sends the photographic evidence to all and sundry?

When I started leasing Sugar back in 2008, she became such a big part of our family so quickly that it seemed natural to include her. The first horsie holiday card was so successful we did another the following year and by the time Holiday 2010 rolled around, I would have had a revolt on my hands had I left her out.  I'm not kidding -- clients would ask me in August what she'd be wearing!

Here's the holiday hit list from years gone by...

2008 Photo

2009 Card

2010 Card

So last weekend the whole family schlepped down to the barn with holiday hats in tow and my friend Libby took pictures of us with her jazzy new camera (picture a handheld Hubble Telescope).  She took something in the neighborhood of 180 pictures!!  I'm going to have to pick a much bigger card for 2011!

Seriously, though, am I the only one who does this??

Monday, November 28, 2011

Eric Horgan and the Clinic of Miraculous Revelations...

Eric describing the "Magic Canter."
Recently I experienced what, to me, was a little slice of heaven.  My blogging buddy Marissa and I were able to clinic with a horseman we both respect tremendously, eventer Eric Horgan. She trailered over to my place to pick me up, we loaded Sug on Marissa's trailer next to her handsome gelding Tucker, and blithely headed off down the road to a friend's farm in search of higher learning.  By the time we arrived about 15 minutes later, Sug had unapologetically eaten most of a completely smitten Tucker's hay.

Sugar and I are jumpers. Marissa and Tucker are hunters. You may wonder why we would want to clinic with an instructor whose expertise lies in a different discipline. Eric, a native of Ireland, has ridden at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal ( finishing 15th individually), the 1990 World Equestrian Games, the Burghley 3-Day Event and Badminton Horse Trials, won the Punchestown International Three-Day Event twice, and is the bronze medalist from the 1989 European Eventing Championships. Basically, the man has forgotten more than I will ever know about horses, riding them, and getting them to jump over stuff that they normally would just avoid altogether.

What I like most about working with Eric is that he deconstructs concepts and presents them in their most easily digestible format. Essentially, he helps me press the EASY button. The first time I rode with him, he watched me for about 5 minutes, asked me a few questions about my horse's background, then asked me some about my background and what I wanted to accomplish. He seemed to understand my horse's strengths and weaknesses almost immediately, which I would expect that most true horsemen would be able to do. What really impressed me, however, was that he understood ME immediately as well, understood what motivated me and relaxed me, and how to get his point across in a way that would make sense to me. 

So, about this past weekend. Our session was scheduled to be an hour and a half.  Marissa and I started out by catching up with Eric, telling him where we were in our training and what we hoped to accomplish during our time with him.  We then started out warming up while Eric watched us, and when we were done he had us come into the center of the ring. Eric told us that since time was limited to the one day's session, he was going to bring us back to basics. He asked us if we'd seen the FEI coverage of the Grand Prix at La Baule and Michel Robert's round. (Uh, yeah, we're Horse Junkies, of course we had.) He explained that the canter shown by Robert's mare, Kellemoi de Pepita, was the kind of canter we needed to be able to produce in our horses. The kind of canter that can be adjusted forward and backward, the kind where the horse can explode off the ground at any moment.

Sug listening intently to Eric...
MIRACULOUS REVELATION #1 - The back. Eric then asked us go out and work our horses through transitions between the gaits and within the gaits. The goal here was to get immediate response from the horse, as well as to get the horse in front of the back. Back, you say, not leg? Yep, the back.

Eric stresses the use of the upper body (and thus the rider's weight) as key in driving the horse forward or slowing it down. As I tend to hunch my back, and thus weaken it, Eric often reminded me to sit up, sit proud, and bring my shoulders back. The problem here was that when I brought my shoulders back, I tended to lose the elasticity in my arms, which irritated my horse and caused her to invert above the bridle.

Eric then asked me to imagine that the power in my back was concentrated between my shoulder blades (something you can practice while driving, by the way -- pull your shoulder blades down and back so that they press into the seat back) and flowing out through my elastic arms. He then told me to "give" with my inside rein for a stride or two, then take back the contact and vibrate the inside rein a bit. I tried to visualize and then implement this idea, and lo and behold, my mare's head dropped, her back rounded, and her canter became supple and buoyant. Zoinks, that was almost too easy.

That's something Eric stresses. You'll often hear him say, "How easy was that?" after you've followed a bit of advice and seen the immediate change in the horse. I'm a fan of pressing the EASY button. Many of the adults I ride with feel the same way. It's almost as if we're all computers that have only so much memory and when there's too much going on - ALERT!!! NOT ENOUGH MEMORY FOR THIS FUNCTION! My friend Libby and I joke with our trainer all the time that she can get us to do one thing at a time. If she wants us to remember the strides in a line, we can do that. If she wants us to remember strides AND try to get the horse to land on the correct lead AND keep our body still, well, that's just too much.

MIRACULOUS REVELATION #2 - The "magic canter." That's part of the deconstructing thing that Eric does. One of my issues jumping a course is that the first few fences are usually pretty good, but then everything gets a bit loosey goosey and strung out at the end. Eric stressed that the first thing one needs for a successful round, hunter or jumper, is a quality canter. So, we worked on that, circling around Eric and collecting and extending our horses until we could get the round, elastic "magic canter" where the horse was literally "pinging" off the ground. The trick was not only getting that canter, but then maintaining it for a full circle.

Once we were able to maintain the magic canter for a full circle (picture two adult women on horseback repeating the mantra "Ping, Ping, Ping, Ping" while gasping for oxygen) Eric set a pair of poles on the ground 6 strides apart. Our task was to pick up the canter, canter down the line in six even "magic canter" strides, and canter out of the line without changing the canter. Let me tell you, this was easier said than done. I'd come in with my magic canter, canter over the first pole, and then find myself losing it and either chasing Sug down the line to the last pole or racing and then holding her back the last couple strides. Basically, I either did four long strides to two short ones, or three short to three long strides. 

Eric walks over to draw
a line in the sand...
MIRACULOUS REVELATION #3 - Recovery. After watching a couple of our botched attempts to canter a line of poles in a consistent rhythm, Eric walked over and drew a line in the footing with his foot, approximately two strides out from the first pole. "This is your line in the sand" he told us. "Your issue is recovery after the fence. You need to sit up and assess where you and your horse are and make any necessary adjustments by this point in the line. You can't just sit there congratulating yourself that you made it over the fence in one piece." I had a good giggle over this, as that's exactly what my friend Libby and I do -- we're so bloody thankful when we make it over a fence intact we pretty much spend the next three strides in a state of giddy relief! So we worked on recovery, over and over, for what seemed like three days until we got it right.

When we were finally able to canter down the line of poles with some consistency, Eric put them up into jumps. We were told to treat the jumps as if they were the same as the poles, just another "magic canter" stride in the line. HAH! Again, easier said than done. I tend to be a micromanaging control freak, so of course I had to overthink things and nitpick my mare down the line, which resulted in two fairly crappy efforts. Eric told me to circle, get my "pingy" canter, and then had me focus on a tree in the distance instead of the jumps. Focusing on the tree prevented me from micromanaging, and enabled me to just sit my "magic canter" and allow the horse to take care of the jumps.

"Ride the canter, not the jumps!" yelled Eric.

Well, would you believe how well that worked? MIRACULOUS REVELATION #4 - The quality of the canter really DOES affect the quality of the jumps, and maintaining a consistent rhythm really DOES make finding a distance much easier. Well, duh, technically I did know that, but these exercises really helped illustrate it and drove the point home.

As the last exercise of the day, Eric put up another fence on the short end of the arena, a straightish five or bending six strides away from the last jump of the six stride line. This tested our ability to ride the canter, and our ability to recover in time to assess the situation and make any necessary adjustments. It was a great exercise for me, because, as Eric identified, I tend to look at the entire course and go into panic mode, instead of just concentrating on my canter and each fence as an individual obstacle. Eric was adding building blocks for me, in bite size increments, which made it easier to concentrate on my overall objective.

We had a couple rough and ready, get 'er done rides to the third fence before I was able to pull myself together, recover in time, and get the "magic canter" to the last fence. By the third or fourth time I was able to do it, and could land the last jump and move off in the rhythmical canter we'd spent the whole lesson trying to perfect. Honestly, the feeling I had after that last successful ride must've been similar to what Sir Edmund Hillary felt after summiting Everest, sans the frostbite.

"How easy was that?" asked Eric. 

Not only did we have a great lesson, each of us also had a little extra time in our schedules.   Since we had planned ahead and it was a lovely, almost spring-like day, after we'd taken care of the horses and put them back on the trailer to resume what Marissa called "their date," we hunkered down in some lawn chairs with Bellinis and chocolate donuts to watch Eric's next lesson.  Doesn't get much better than that, my friends!

(Don't worry, I shared a few bites with Sug and Tucker.  As if I would neglect the Sainted One and her new paramour.) 

Looking forward to riding with Eric when he comes back in the Spring.  Maybe by then I'll be able to keep that magic canter over an entire course!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Winner!!

Sugar's new fly bonnet for the 2012 season is....

(Drumroll, please.)

Bonnet #1!!  My Big Girl's gonna be rocking some bling in the ring!  We're gonna go with only one row of crystals between the white cord and the royal blue trim.

Many thanks to all who voted on AWIP and the Chronicle of the Horse forum!  Time to reach out to Stephanie at Sanswill Designs to place my order.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Counting My Blessings...

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, so I've spent quite a bit of time reflecting on how lucky I am and how much I have to be thankful for. This is what I've come up with so far. It's an incomplete list, but I think a fairly good start. (Sorry if it's not too coherent - I've got a whopper of a head cold and my thought processes are a bit clogged.)

I'm thankful to have a healthy, happy family. 

I'm lucky to be surrounded by wonderful friends - my "adopted" family.

I'm blessed to be in good health and to have a job that affords me the fiscal freedom to follow my equestrian passion.

All the horses in my life have been wonderful teachers, but I'm particularly blessed to have the Sainted Mare and Princess Pony in my life now. My children and I have learned so much from these two wonderful horses, bless their endlessly patient hearts. 

The time spent with the horses has also been a blessing in terms of my relationship with my kids.  The hours we spend together taking care of the girls, talking and laughing and fighting, all those times are precious memories. (I'd like to believe all the good karma I'm building up with them now will stand me in good stead come the teenage years, but I'm not that unrealistic.)

I'm so thankful for this blog, for the therapy it provides, and for the wonderful new friends who have come into my life since I've started it.  Your comments are a constant joy to me, and I thank you for taking time out of your busy lives to share your thoughts with me.
I know there's more, but nothing else is coming to my snot-sodden brain right now, so I'm going to sign off, rally the kiddos, and head down to the barn to shower the girls with love and apples.
Wishing all of you a wonderful holiday season!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Choose Sug's Next Bonnet, and Oh Yeah, a Giveaway!

There's an important birthday coming up in December!

No, not THAT birthday.  No wise men or a star involved in this one, unless you count Ernest & Julio Gallo or Lucky Star Chardonnay.  MY birthday.  A day of great import and significance, at least in my little corner of the universe.

My family has asked me what gift they might bestow upon me to celebrate this momentous occasion.  After much deliberation, I have arrived at the perfect idea - Sug needs a new fly bonnet!  We lost the last one when I did my infamous over-the-head swan dive and inadvertently yanked the bridle off Sugar's head. My trainer got the bridle back on Sug, but we were so busy making sure I had all my teeth that we forgot about the bonnet.

I have found (via the COTH forum) a new supplier of custom fly bonnets.  The name is Sanswill Designs, and these bonnets are truly a work of art.  However, I can't decide which one to get. So, I am asking YOU, my dear friends from the blogosphere, to help me choose which one Sug will be wearing next season.

The colors will be black ears, white cording, and royal blue trim.  The styles are:

#1.  This one -- but with only one row of crystals between the cording and the trim.

#2.  Black ears, white cording, 2 rows of royal trim and finished in black trim.

#3.  This one  - basic black ears, white cording, but with three rows of royal trim.

Check out Sanswill Designs on Facebook, or better yet, for your chance to win your very own Sanswill bonnet, go to GetMyFix and enter to win the contest there.  I did! (Heck, the way I fall off, I had to.  I need a spare!)

Let me know which one you like by leaving a comment telling me which number you think will look best on Sug.  Thanks so much for your input!! I'll count all the votes on Friday 11/25 and let you know the winner.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Vote for Eric Lamaze & Hickstead: Athlete of the Year

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation sports columnist Scott Russell has put forth a dozen deserving Canadian athletes for the coveted Canadian Athlete of the Year Award.  You may be asking, "Why should I give a rat's tuckus about the Canadian Athlete of the Year?"  Simple, my friend.  If you are reading this, you clearly love all things equine.  If this is the case, you may be aware that Canadian showjumper Eric Lamaze and his recently deceased champion Hickstead were ranked #1 in the world at the time of Hickstead's passing.  The venerable pair is now in the running for Canadian Athlet of the Year.

Let's make one thing clear, as Mr. Russell says, this is not about the sympathy vote.  Here's a brief recap of the team's 2011 season:
  • Winners of the 2011 $1 million CN International (second time)
  • Winners of the $200,000 ATCO Power Queen Elizabeth II Cup (fourth time)
  • Winners - Grand Prix of La Baule, FR
  • Winners - Grand Prix of Rome, IT
  • 1st Place - 1.55 m Rotterdam, NL
  • 1st Place - $100,000 Le Saute Hermes, Paris, FR
  • 2nd Place, FEI Rolex World Cup, Leipzig, DE
Not too shabby, huh? 

It'll take about 3 seconds out of your day to vote for Hickstead and Eric.  I think they deserve it -- don't you?

Follow the link, scroll down to the bottom of the article, select Hickstead and Eric in the Polldaddy Poll and click vote. Let’s do this!

 CLICK HERE TO VOTE for Hickstead and Eric for Canada’s Athlete of the Year

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Eistein's Theory of Insanity as Applied to Equines and Middle Aged Women...

Gotta find this in a t-shirt somewhere!
I originally posted this on Horse Junkies United, but after my blogging buddy Marissa (aka Tucker's Mom) posted this great graphic on Facebook, I decided I had to post it here as well.

You’ve heard of it, right? Goes something like this: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

You’d think that since I’m still dealing with the physical fallout of my recent attempt to turn myself into a human catapult, that I’d be taking care of myself and not doing anything stupid. You’d be wrong. Nope, I’m still dumb as a box of rocks.

The other day, the Sainted Mare and I decided we needed an easy day and that a wander through the fields adjacent to the barn was in order.

It’s hunting season, but these fields are off-limits so I thought we’d be fine. WRONG. I forgot that all the wee forest creatures are on high alert during hunting season and that this sense of panic pervades all creatures that enter their domain.

We were walking along a hedgerow when the perfect sh$!storm of events occurred: Loud squawking and flapping sounds as a terrified pheasant took wing, and a bugle and crashing of fall foliage as a large buck left his hidey hole and took off across the field.

The Sainted Mare just about crapped herself, took a good look at the buck and said,”That bas@#rd’s got horns, WE ARE OUTTA HERE!” and spun around and exited stage right. Sadly, I exited stage left, dangled from her neck for a nanosecond, and then somehow managed to bellyflop to earth.

The Sainted One was backpedaling as if her life depended on it (in her defense, she thought it did), and I was stupidly hanging onto the reins and letting myself be dragged across the field like a water-skier who had fallen, and forgot to let go of the tow rope. In between mouthfuls of dirt and roughage, I was vehemently threatening greater peril to the Sainted One’s existence if she did not stop her retreat ”this instant!”

The mare quickly calculated the risks posed by the woodland creatures (now long gone) and her very irate Mom (still dangling on the end of her reins and cussing up a blue streak), and decided a swift halt and a proactive apology was the safest course of action. She stood still and licked me while I tried to reassemble myself, and continued to stand like a stone while I hauled my bruised tuckus back into the saddle (amidst much groaning and creative vocabulary.) Off we went back to the barn, as if nothing untoward had occurred. We got back uneventfully, I untacked her and immediately tossed back some NSAIDs I keep at the barn for just such an occasion.

Am still mainlining the NSAIDs and for variety have added the occasional muscle relaxer, as at my age body parts continue to complain long after the offending incident. I have also resolved that I will no longer be heading off on my own, even within sight of the barn, even with my cell phone firmly attached, even thought the Sainted Mare is normally bomb-proof (hence her beatification).

No doubt Einstein would have been proud of me.

(By the way, gotta give a shout out to Blackberry for being able to cushion the landing of a 140lb woman and ensuing dirt drag and come out unscathed! Kudos!)


Monday, November 14, 2011

In Which the Pony and the Child Become Jumpers for a Day...

Walking the course. 
Someone looks a little green around the gills!
Soph and Cookie have spent the past summer competing in the Short Stirrup Hunter and Equitation divisions.  They've worked hard and done well, and Soph's riding has improved to the point where they've been doing bigger and harder courses.  As both pony and child LOVE to jump, my trainer suggested that showing in an Itty Bitty Jumper class (2'-2'3") would be a nice reward after a season of diligent effort.

Soph was her typical confident self until the morning of the show.  As we drove to the showgrounds she started asking questions about the height of the fences, how many of them she'd be expected to have to remember, and about jump offs.  She was very concerned about jump offs and the potential GPS issues having to remember an additional course presented.  My normally uber-confident child had been replaced by a morass of nerves.  She didn't doubt her pony's ability ( if you ask Sophie, Cookie is capable of being a Puissance Pony) but for the first time ever she was having doubts about her own.

Pensive pony jockey...
Ah-HAH!  As our family's resident neurotic, I could empathize, and shared with her some techniques for getting over nerves, remembering courses, etc.  She liked the idea of naming the fences and making a song of the course. (Think of the kid's song, Dry Bones. Instead of "The knee bone is connected to the thigh bone," you have: The red oxer is connected to the blue vertical..." How can you possibly forget the course after immortalizing it in song?)  She outright rejected the idea of using my notebook to diagram the course. "Mom, I'll look like a dork."  "No arguments there,sweetie, but we memory- impaired do what we need to do, so let's not passjudgement."

"And the heels go down like so..."
Upon arrival at the show, it did not look as if things were going to go well.  The fences looked more like 2'6" than 2'-2'3", and during the course walk I could swear the child looked as if she were going to barf on one of the fences.  Annabel, our trainer, did her best to distract Sophie by teaching her how to "Walk the Course" -what I refer to as the Ministry of Silly Walks portion of the day - and count the striding she'd need between obstacles.  Now I was having a serious crisis of confidence, and had to keep reminding myself that Annabel would never put the child or the pony in a situation they could not handle.  She's quite adept at managing that - always challenges you to stretch your comfort zone, but never pushes you past your capabilities or overfaces you.

The pair warmed up well, and stood for a few minutes at the one end of the warm-up ring watching the early rounds.  As Annabel gave Sophie some more instruction, Cookie intently watched the action in the ring.  I could swear she was memorizing the course, and saying to herself, "Personally, I would have added a stride in that line..."  After a few more rounds, the child and pony trotted off into the ring for their first round.

The picture of concentration...

I'm not sure when and where it happened, when the nerves settled and confidence bloomed, but at some point it did.  Sophie and Cookie ripsnorted their way around that course and ended with a fault free round and big smiles on their faces.  Yes, BOTH of them were smiling. Annabel called it perfectly as they exited the ring, "That pony had herself a VERY GOOD TIME out there."  Cookie had her little pony strut in full effect, and was the absolute picture of pony satisfaction.

The pair didn't do the second class in order to give Sophie more time to memorize the course for the third class and the jump off.  Sophie and her barn buddy Emma spent a good bit of time in front of the board discussing the course (so they said -- the amount of giggling I saw makes me suspect otherwise) until Annabel went over to walk the course with her.  Sophie and Cookie took a few laps around the warmup ring, popped over a few fences, and then trotted off to wait their turn to enter the jumper ring.

Pony motorcycle! Wheee!

Their second round was a thing of beauty, or so sayeth the proud Momma.  Seriously, how can you not just grin when you see a kid and a pony so clearly enjoying themselves?  They had another clear round, much to the delight of their Entourage -Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Big Brother, Barn Buddy Emma, Emma's Mom, and fellow barn mate Tamsin. A clear round in this class meant it was time they were now faced with the dreaded jump off.

The first few fences went well, however things went cattywumpus when the future Olympic hopeful decided to do an inside turn to the last combination but forgot a key peice of information imparted by her trainer: "Show the pony the opening left rein so she knows where she's going." No opening left rein meant a drive-by at top speed, however the future Olympic hopeful finally showed the pony the opening left rein and they cruised back around for a successful attempt.  The look on Cookie's face when she realized what had happened was priceless - pure pony annoyance!  That pony  was seriously irked that her perfect performance had been marred!

Priceless Pony...

All in all, it was a very successful day.  Most importantly, pony and child had a blast together.  The child also learned a valuable lesson about managing nerves and handling new and challenging situations.  We spent the morning with wonderful friends and family. Mom and the Boy enjoyed some really first rate breakfast sandwiches, and Grandma brought homemade cookies.  Can't get much better than that!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Some More Reflecting, With Help From A Friend...

Inspiration comes from everywhere. We take inspiration from the world around us, from our loved ones, from friends, and from complete strangers.

Something my friend Marissa said this past week as we discussed Hickstead's passing motivated me to finally coalesce my thoughts and blog about them.  I even quoted her in my post. Looks like her words had the same profound affect on her as they did on me.  If you don't follow Marissa's blog, Tucker the Wunderkind, you may have missed her wonderful post on the loss of Hickstead.  I'm going to make life easy for you by re-posting her thoughts here, but I'd also recommend wandering over to Tucker the Wunderkind to read more of her writing.  In this blogger's humble opinion, she's that good.

The Wrong Ending

This story had the wrong ending. This wasn't the way it was supposed to go.

You were supposed to have an unprecedented career in showjumping, adored by fans across the nations for years, and continue to amaze us with your talent, agility, strength, and heart. You were supposed to be retired, with that wise old look on your face that teenaged stallions get, and paraded around the ring adorned with a blanket of roses. Crowds of people were supposed to stand and applaud your many, many accomplishments, music playing and riders choking up with pride and esteem. You were supposed to live out your twilight years in some big green pasture, calling out to mares across the fencelines, pinning your ears at geldings walking past, and nickering to grooms for treats and scratches.

You were not supposed to come crashing to the ground in a heartbreaking, violent, tragic way. The crowd was not supposed to look on in horror, hands clapped across mouths and tears streaming down their cheeks. You should have ended this competition with a victory gallop, a ribbon streaming from your bridle. There shouldn't have been a moment of silence. The competition shouldn't have been cancelled. This was definitely not the way the story was supposed to play out.

I haven't been blogging regularly lately because I have some kind of prolonged writer's block and I find myself with no idea what to say these days (but everything is fine, Tucker and I are well). I felt compelled to write something today though, both to honor this great horse and to reflect on how profoundly his passing has affected me. It has left me feeling morose, a little indignant at life, and completely empty.

Go home and hug your horses tonight. Tell them you love them and you're grateful for them. And be honored to be part of a sport that allows us to share in the lives of champions like Hickstead.

Video: Spruce Meadow's Tribute to Hickstead 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

We Lost a Great One: Thoughts on Hickstead's Passing...

A photo I took at the WEG.
Too bad you can't see Eric's smile...
Sorry to have been AWOL for a while.  To be quite honest, the untimely passing of Hickstead hit me pretty hard, and it's taken some time to wrap my head around the concept that he's gone. 

If you are feeling the same way, or would just like to spend some time honoring the memory of this great show jumping stallion, the Royal Horse Show is live streaming their Tribute to Hickstead tonight at 8:30pm EST.  Eric Lamaze, Hickstead's partner, will be riding in the FEI World Cup Grand Prix that will follow at 8:40pm EST.  Eric returned to competition Tuesday night, riding Herald 3 to a 10th place finish in the $31,000 Jolera International Jumper Welcome class.

I wrote some thoughts on Hickstead's passing for a blog I contribute to, Horse Junkies United.  There is a forum there for Fan Tributes to Hickstead, as well as a lovely article by HJU blogger Keara McMurdo. I thought I'd share some of my thoughts here as well:

Normally on days the FEI is streaming a live feed of a Word Cup qualifier, I get up early, wander down to the kitchen, make myself a latte and settle in on the couch to watch the best of the best. I'm so glad I didn't this past Sunday. 

As it was, when I finally did go online, I couldn't comprehend the news that greeted me. Like many others, at first I thought someone was playing a very cruel joke. Clearly that wasn't the case.

Hickstead's passing deeply affected many of us in the equine community. In typical Kubler Ross fashion, we cycled through the stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Personally, I got stuck in Depression. On any given day I read equestrian books and magazines, watch equestrian DVDs while I exercise, ride, and watch horse related on-demand videos while my family watches TV. I did none of those things. I couldn't.

Tonight I stopped by the barn on my way out for a business trip. I groomed, rode, and massaged my mare, and as I do every night, I thanked her for her time, and for the privilege of having her in my life. Hickstead was very much in my mind, especially as I was with her, and while I wanted to work through my thoughts by blogging, I couldn't because I kept stumbling upon a mental roadblock - the word "JOY."

HUH? "JOY??" I've been crying on and off since seeing the news. JOY?? Really? Not the word I'd have picked. Oddly, though, I couldn't get that word out of my head during the 3 hour drive to my hotel. It wasn't until I got to my room and was finally able to watch some of the Hickstead tribute videos and footage of some of his rounds that it made sense.

According to

joy noun

1.the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation:
2.a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated

Oooooohhhhh. Of course. I get it now. Anyone who has ever watched Eric and Hickstead together has seen Eric's incandescent grin of delight after a clean round as he exuberantly pats Hickstead. We've admired Hickstead's pricked ears and proud neck carriage as he exults in their power and prowess. Most visibly, you can see their great elation, not just in having accomplished their goal, but in having accomplished it together. How many times have we seen Eric lean down to give the stallion a hug, or point down at Hickstead, telling us that the miraculous feat we'd just witnessed was all the diminutive stallion's doing. Theirs was a relationship focused on the "We," not the "Me."

Clearly they felt delight in being so good at what they did, but perhaps more importantly, they felt the keen delight, or joy, of doing what they did together.

Like many show jumping fans, I've followed Hickstead and Eric since the 2007 CN International. I can remember sitting on the edge of my seat, watching coverage from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and bawling my eyes out when Hickstead and Eric won, then crying even harder when Eric galloped around the arena, pointing down at Hickstead. Was there ever a more joyful moment than that?

Have you ever noticed how some things are so beautiful they have the power to evoke tears? Tears of joy, they're called. For example, I cry every time I see the footage of Andreas Helgstrand and the late Blu Hors Matine, or Totilas' record breaking Kur at Olympia, or William Fox-Pitt's triumphant Rolex Kentucky win on Cool Mountain. The sheer beauty of Hickstead's rounds have brought me to tears more than once.

Last year my Canadian friend and I were lucky enough to be able to attend the WEG together. I can remember how excited we were, and how torn I was over wanting success for my favorite American combinations and hoping that Hickstead and Eric would win (I'd been learning the words to the Canadian National Anthem for weeks.)

Watching Hickstead and Eric at the WEG was an unforgettable experience. If anyone still doubted his freakish talent, it simply wasn't possible after watching him through 4 clean rounds in the Final Four. One of my favorite WEG memories was of watching Hickstead in Round 2 as Abdullah al Sharbatly piloted him. At one point one could swear Hickstead had a little conversation with his young rider that went something like this: "Look, Son, I know the course. How about you sit still up there, try not to get in my way, and let me just go take care of business." His round with eventual WEG Champion Phillipe Le Jeune was a thing of beauty - Phillipe clearly understood how Hickstead liked to go, and rode him in the manner that would allow the stallion to do his job successfully.

Could there have been a more fitting tribute to the Best Horse of the WEG than Phillipe Le Jeune's? No sooner had they cleared the final fence than Phillipe began thanking Hickstead with pats and hugs. At the time, it struck me not just as thanks to a horse for a memorable win, but for a memorable trip as well. Again, what word springs to mind when one looks at Phillipe's face after his round on Hickstead? JOY. Not just for the win, but for the experience of working with a truly remarkable partner.

As a friend of mine so poignantly put it, "This horse should have had an unprecedented career followed by a tear-jerking retirement ceremony where he was paraded around the ring covered in a rose blanket. Not this. This is just too awful. It's just not fair."

She's right, this is NOT how their story was supposed to end. One can't even imagine what Eric and Hickstead's connections are going through right now. One can only hope that with time the sorrow will fade a bit, and they will remember the JOY.

Leonardo da Vinci once said, "The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding." Many years later Lord Byron observed, "All who joy would win must share it. Happiness was born a Twin." It seems to me the words of those two men coalesce to describe the magic partnership shared by Hickstead and Eric Lamaze. That magic partnership, that intense connection, that we as horse lovers strive for, and so often fall short of.

RIP Hickstead. You were a priceless gift of JOY to all whose lives you touched.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Note of Thanks...

Massages are good,
but blog comments are better!
My job requires a bit of travel, which means a fair amount of time spent away from my family and, yep, the barn and the ponies.  Travel definitely has it's upsides (hellloooooo - someone cooks for me, drives ME around, and picks up after me for a change), but the missing the family and ponies part is a definite downside.

The blog has helped tremendously in that it connects me to the barn and the feeling the horses give me when I'm not with them.  However, AWIP has done something even more important than that-- it's connected me with a ton of new friends whose support and kindness lifts me up on a daily basis.

On a recent business trip, the best parts of my day weren't the business successes, the short line at Starbucks or the free 15 minute chair massage sponsored by one of my clients (though that was fabulous!)  It's such a wonderful feeling to reach down for one's phone to check emails and be surprised and elated to find a comment left by a blogging buddy.  My colleagues would invariably ask what had prompted the big smile I was wearing (no doubt expecting news of a big sale) and were always a bit bemused when I'd answer, "Someone left a comment on my blog!"

I can remember the excitement I felt over the first comment I ever received.  That "OMG, someone actually READ what I wrote and cared enough to share their thoughts with me!" feeling.  My husband has a difficult time understanding this. After all, he comments on a lot of the things I say or do.  I do not always get excited over his comments.  In fact, they quite often elicit the opposite reaction. (Yes, dear, I know what you MEANT,  but telling a woman her butt looks less dimply since she started exercising more is NOT the kind of feedback that will have her jumping for joy. Just saying.) I point out to my long suffering spouse that he is contractually obligated to share his thoughts with me, my blogging buddies are not.  There is a big difference, at least to my way of thinking.

So, to all my blogging buddies, wherever you may be: THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!  Thank you for your support, your insights, your kindness, your words of wisdom, and your humor.  Thank you for sharing your time with me and for reading AWIP

You guys are the bees knees!   XOXOXO!