Sunday, February 27, 2011
PRO DerbyCross is a sport designed to showcase in a fun and spectator friendly format the bravery of three day eventing’s cross country phase as well as the speed and accuracy of show jumping. In DerbyCross competition, teams of five riders compete against each other. Each team is comprised of three event riders, one show jumping rider, and one polo player. Riders individually jump designated courses against the clock, with the course being altered slightly for riders of each discipline. This year DerbyCross has partnered with the Professional Riders Organization. On March 5th, DerbyCross will make its debut in Wellington, FL. Five teams will vie against each other at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
This weekend I took a few moments to speak with Derb Cross Team Triple Crown captain Allison Springer. Allison is a member of the 2011 USEF High Performance List and has her sights set on the London 2012 Olympics on her mount Arthur. Allison is also on the USEA Board of Governors and is the Vice President of PRO.
Tell me about your experience with DerbyCross.
DerbyCross began in 2006. I have ridden in three DerbyCross competitions so far. The ones that I have done were at Great Meadow Polo Club in The Plains, Virginia. The thing about DerbyCross is that it takes the best elements of eventing and it puts it into a fun and educational format that really showcases the sport. Currently, three day eventing is difficult to follow if you don’t already understand the sport. With DerbyCross we can really create a buzz about eventing for an audience that may not have known about us at all.
In the competitions that I did at Great Meadow, I spent some time mingling with the crowd afterwards. They were really positive about DerbyCross. They loved that it had riders from different disciplines and they thought that the team aspect made it really fun. People told me that they came to the event to enjoy a day in the country, but as the competition progressed they became invested in the teams and wanted to root for one team or another to win. They were excited about cheering their favorite team on.
Eventing is such a special sport, but unlike in Europe and the U. K. the sport is not widely known here. The aim of DerbyCross is to tie in different disciplines with spectators so that we can personalize our sport for them. We want people to say, “I love that horse!” or “I love that rider!” Then they may come to see what a real event is all about.
How Does DerbyCross compare to other attempts to bring eventing to a larger audience, such as Express Eventing in the U. K. and Indoor Eventing in Canada?
When Sinead [Halpin], Rebecca [Howard], and Dana [Voorhees] created Derby Cross, they really did it right. They got just the right mix of what is exciting in our sport and they created something very special. In my opinion it’s great to not have the dressage because the jumping draws people in right away. Unless you know the players, what is exciting to watch in eventing is the thrill of cross country and show jumping. Also, the team and interdisciplinary aspect of DerbyCross makes it more fun to watch. With DerbyCross we are reaching out to more folks and bringing them in. It is a great thing for our sport.
Wellington does not have a big permanent eventing community in the winter. Why is PRO hosting a DerbyCross competition there on that weekend, even though it is also in conflict with Rocking Horse Horse Trials?
Our hope with DerbyCross is to take it to different parts of the country so that we can reach out to some new audiences. Wellington is our first try at this. As for the dates, we had to pick dates in February and March that worked for the event riders who were going to participate. For the upper level riders, we agreed that if we missed an intermediate level competition, we could find another one to go to. Where we couldn’t compromise was with advanced or FEI level competitions, because that calendar is much tighter. I sat down and found three weekends that would work between the Area II and Area III eventing calendars. From there we let Wellington decide when they wanted us, so it ultimately wound up being there choice. They chose to have us on Nations Cup weekend, which is a huge honor. Nations Cup weekend is the most prestigious weekend of the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington.
PRO has a proven track record over the past few years of hosting fun, audience friendly events at some major shows. For example riders did the bareback puissance at Plantation Field International, Pony Club games at the Millbrook Horse Trial and Shetland pony races at the Dansko Fair Hill International CCI**/***. How do these events and DerbyCross fit with PRO’s goals?
PRO has been trying to help support a culture of destination events through the PRO Tour Series. One of the goals of the series is to create a family and audience friendly atmosphere where people can come and enjoy the sport of eventing while having other fun and interesting activities at the same venue. PRO’s extra events just give the audience something different to enjoy while watching the competition, and it creates an introduction to some of this country’s top event riders. They have this type of stuff in England and it’s a lot of fun. PRO has also gotten color commentators for their special events, and it really adds to the atmosphere. Next weekend at DerbyCross we have Leslie Law and Boyd Martin hosting and commentating and John Kyle is flying over from the UK to do the announcing. They will really help the crowd to understand what is going on and they will be able to talk about the different elements of our sport. We have such camradarie in eventing and it’s such a fantastic sport. With DerbyCross we are trying to boil it down to the essence for eventing enthusiasts and new audiences as well. I think this is a good thing for everyone in eventing!
Thursday, February 24, 2011
This is my first blog ever, so I will now join the rest of the world with instant communication. My goal is to give incite as to how I think about horses, riders and the sport. I was asked to write about three paragraphs, my plan is to share my opinion about each one. Please feel free to contact me with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s start with what I have come to realize about the reins. I have paid close attention to how much riders struggle with the bridge, half bridge, changing the two, switching the whip hand, sliding the reins and using the neck strap. In my early years of being an apprentice jockey, I would spend hours on a straw bale with a bridle fixed in front of me, practicing my finish ride (pretending I was Angle Cordero). This was before the equicizer (www.franklovatojr.com). I would ride the bale switching sticks changing crosses till there was straw everywhere. When I finally got to start breezing racehorses, it was much easier to change holds, switch whip hands with out looking down at 30+ miles per hour. Point being, I don’t ever look down to find my reins, make a bridge, grab my chicken strap (which by the way is like American Express to me “I don’t leave home with out it”). So over the past few weeks, I have really started to emphasize exercises to my students to try to get them more comfortable with the “simple” process of a bridge, half bridge, slipping the reins, grabbing the neck strap and changing whip hands without looking down.
As I travel around the country more and more, one big thing that stands out to me is the younger and older inexperienced riders mounted on off the track thoroughbreds. No one in this sport loves race horses more then me. I would also challenge that most first time horse owners don’t fully understand the complexity of the young race horse or off the track thoroughbred. I see young teenagers on these types of horses, if this is their first horse the odds are, the rider is over faced. I think somehow we must educate (honestly educate) people who are first time owners what they are buying or adopting. These horses for the most part have one or two speeds….. And stop and reverse are not it! Go and go faster is more likely. The racing game has changed, the two year old dollar is what is most profitable. The fastest yearling at the sale brings the most money, the early races are easier, and if they can win a graded stake as a 2 year old breeding potential is multiplied. The start of most race horses is brief and fast at best. The one thing that I say to parents all the time is….. Would you put you child in a car with out brakes?
THE SPORT OF EVENTING
First let me start by saying that I’m an advocate for education, better riding, and safer thinking. I must say out loud that I am not a fan of the dressage helmet rule. I know that I am out numbered by a lot and also by being on the safety committee I should applaud this new measure to add more safety to our sport. However, I do believe that there is a class element, dressage is to be an elegant picture, and really, on the danger scale, this is a pretty low risk sport. In my personal experiences with some, not so quiet horses, I have worn a helmet with a strap, sometimes I have worn an approved helmet in warm up then switched before going into the ring. Well, I guess that’s just me using personal responsibility again and I bet somewhere someone is in the “think tank” dreaming up an integrated airvest shadbelly!
Photo Courtesy of Katherine Rizzo
Monday, February 14, 2011
My name is James Alliston, originally form England, I have now been based at the beautiful Graceland Equestrian Center in Castro Valley, California, since the summer of 2009. Prior to this I worked for a number of years on the east coast for eventing legend Bruce Davidson Sr.
I hope that 2011 will be an exciting year for me. My best horses are my own Parker and Jumbo's Jake, owned by India McEvoy. Parker is a tall thoroughbred who is a fantastic, brave jumper and was the first horse I bought in America. We have been working very hard on his dressage in the close season and I am hoping all the progress he has made translates to the competition ring this year. Jumbo's Jake was a new ride for me in 2010 and is a lovely horse to ride in all phases having been beautifully trained by his owner and former rider India. He had a great year last year with a couple of advanced wins and a 3rd place at the Galway Downs CCI3* in November and has beeen a pleasure to ride everyday. I don't like to make plans too big to avoid disappointment but if all goes well this spring I would like to have a crack at Rolex with them in April, but we will see.
My typical work day is busy with riding and teaching students. I enjoy the variety of the job and I make my living through a combination of teaching students, training other people's horses and horse sales. I am fortunate enough to have a lovely group of students and clients who make the day much more interesting than just slogging away by yourself. I take great pleasure in going to the shows and helping them to be successful and have an enjoyable experience. All the events in California tend to be spread over three days which means it is possible to coach as well as ride a number of horses myself which is nice. The cross country course is almost always a tilled track rather than grass which is a big change from the east coast or England. One thing I like about this is most of the time you don't need studs and I definitely don't miss cleaning the holes and taking studs in and out. The season kicks off this weekend at Ram Tap in Fresno so everyone is getting geared up for their 2011 debuts.
A big change for this winter is that we now have a huge roofed arena to keep us dry in the wet season. This has been a huge help in enabling us to keep practicing and training when most other barns in the area are under water. A big thank you to Chuck and Peggy Moore, owners of Graceland Equestrian Center, for making this happen and continually improving the already outstanding facility. I am fortunate to have access to two enormous arenas, a gallops and a cross country course which is a real luxury. The photo is of Parker having an early morning ride in the new roofed arena.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
In 2009 I was almost able to fulfill a lifelong dream of riding at Rolex Kentucky CCI****. I qualified with my mount ESB Irish Doctrine who is owned by my wonderful patron Elkins Wetherill. We had also qualified for Rolex in 2008, but I had only gotten the ride on Doc a few months before and I felt we still had issues to iron out. In 2009, after careful preparation all spring, we arrived at the Kentucky Horse Park fit and ready to compete. As fate would have it, 2009 would not be our year. Doc is a notoriously quirky and spooky horse. Trot up day on Wednesday was chilly and blustery. Moments before our number was called to present to the ground jury, my groom trotted Doc for me up and back on the tarmac in our pre-inspection holding area. Doc spooked sideways. I didn’t think much of it, with the crowd and the wind I would have been surprised if he had kept all four feet on the ground. I proceeded up the ramp and presented for the jog. I was sent to the hold, where to my horror I realized that my horse was three-legged lame and getting worse with each step. Further diagnosis revealed that he had torn a ligament in his stifle. It seems that his spook on the asphalt ended our chances to ride on that hallowed course. Doc came sound and spent a season the following year competing at the preliminary level, which defied all diagnoses, but his upper level career was ended.
Two years later, I am once again qualified for Rolex. This time I am riding Jet, a bright red chestnut off the track thoroughbred. Jet has been with me since he began his eventing career. In 2004 my now-husband, performance horse farrier Brian Leith, moved to Ocala, FL. Being new to the area, he decided to pick up a barn of racehorses along with the sport horses he was shoeing. Jet was bred in New York State and raced there in the summers, but came to Florida in the winters to train. Brian shod him as a three, four, and five year old in Ocala. Jet, a.k.a. Jamie’s Jet by A.P. Jet out of Full of Bull, had a moderately successful racing career. In late 2006, however, he was loosing his speed and his owners decided to retire him. Brian, who knew he was a sensible horse, picked him up just before Christmas and sent him to a friend to decompress. In 2007 Brian and I started dating while I was in Ocala for the winter. In April I was back in Pennsylvania. It seemed, though, that Brian thought our relationship was going well. He called me and told me he was sending me a horse. He said that the horse had a good mind and he figured I could do something with him.
Within a year and a half, Jet completed his first CCI* with me at the Florida Horse Park. We did a second CCI* in the spring of 2009 at the Florida Horse Park and then moved up to the intermediate and two-star level. From the beginning Jet was a cross country machine, often posting at the top of his division in that discipline. He has a naturally balanced stride, so I hardly have to touch him on course. The collection and expression necessary in dressage and the suppleness and bascule necessary in show jumping have come more slowly to Jet. Nonetheless, for the past four years Jet has clocked along for me. He has been unbelievably consistent in his record and has never missed a beat in his soundness. In May of 2010, Jet was 6th in his first CIC*** at Jersey Fresh and then 14th at Bromont CCI*** in Canada in June. At the end of October we finished our final four star qualification with an 18th place finish at Fair Hill International CCI*** in Elkton, MD. Rolex was once again in my crosshairs.
In December, however, when I brought Jet back into work after his rest time last fall, something didn’t feel quite right. I tried every trick I knew to assess the problem, and I also called in the professionals, including multiple veterinarians, acupuncturists, chiropractors, and massage therapists. We tried one thing after another, but nothing made him sound. In January we took him to The University of Florida for a bone scan. The test did not show any area of concern, so we were still left with no answers. We began blocking, and with the aid of ultrasound found a small inflammation in a suspensory ligament. I brought him home and aggressively treated the area with injections and shockwave therapy. Jet also began exercising in the aqua-tread machine at nearby Kesmarc. Within two weeks, the ligament issue resolved, but his lameness worsened.
It is now approximately ten weeks to Rolex. I have brought new opinions on board and this morning we started a new treatment that seems to have made a positive improvement as of this afternoon. If Rolex is going to be a reality for us this year, I have two weeks left to get Jet sound. I will need every minute of the remaining eight weeks to train, boost his fitness, and do preparation outings. Every day I think about the irony of the situation. I may once again be all dressed up with nowhere to go.
Six or seven years ago I rode around the cross country course at Kentucky CCI**** on a golf cart with Peter Green and some friends. A veteran U. S. Equestrian Team member and four star competitor, Peter was riding that year. At the time I had just barely competed my first three star. Getting to the four star level seemed like a very big deal. I asked Peter at what point in his career did getting to a four star become not such a big deal. He smiled a knowing smile and replied, “It is always an honor to get here.” Those words resonate more with me every year.