Thursday, February 10, 2011

PERSPECTIVE: The Road to Kentucky by Ashley Leith

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.

1 comment:

  1. Your post tugs at my heart. I can not wait until I am cheering for you at Rolex. You are an amazing competitor, teacher, and person. Allison