Friday, March 25, 2011

For the Love of This Sport by Danny Warrington

I am finding it very hard to write this week. As most of the eventing community knows we lost a great friend and supporter of the sport last Friday. Phil Sawin.

I was lucky enough to spend some time with Phil on his family's farm in Bellville, TX over the past few years when I would come down to teach clinics. His wife has scheduled weekly lessons for me since my arrival here in Texas this December. Phil was in the process of building his dream home and the sport of eventing in Texas. I guess the reason I am writing all of this is to express my love for the sport and the grass roots people who also love the game. What I have found mostly here in Texas is a camaraderie of friends who share the excitement of eventing. There are dreams of making teams and winning medals from the youngsters but mostly its people having fun. Phil and his wife Ruth provide a great deal of fun for Texas eventers at their farm, Pine Hill. No training sessions, no push to qualify for Fair Hill or Rolex, no ulterior motives- only a love for horses and the sport.

As the news came to us at Meadow Creek this past Friday my heart went out to Ruth and their daughter, Ellie. I was coaching last minute dressage tips for Saturdays test when I heard.... I swallowed a deep breath and told the mother of the student next to me. It was so hard to keep working but I knew that's what Phil would have wanted, he had worked so hard to bring eventing to Texas, that I had to keep a smile (as well as everyone else).

I feel that way today, only maybe I see the best side of the eventing community. The show must go on (Pine Hill's USEA event on April 9th) everyone will enjoy Phil's hard work. How so many people have stepped up to help Ruth and Ellie. From volunteers at the show, to food for the family, the pony club dc, the parents of students. It really is amazing.

So the next time you suit up to ride cross country, take a deep breath, and remember why we all love this sport, and the love that so many others give to our sport. 5-4-3-2-1.... have a great ride!!

Photo of Phil Swain courtesy of Jim Stoner

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The West Coast Season Begins by James Alliston

It has been an action packed month since my last blog. The season started for me in mid-February at Ram Tap Horse Trials in Fresno. This was a really fun season opener and everyone performed really well despite the wet conditions. Peggy Moore’s lovely young horse Boston jumped particularly well and made a winning debut at the Prelim level which I was delighted with. I was also a proud owner at this event with partner India McEvoy skillfully piloting my own Mojo to a successful first Preliminary.

Next up was Twin Rivers two weeks later which is Califoirnia’s first Advanced event of the year. It attracted a classy field and was blessed with near perfect conditions. India McEvoy’s divine Jumbo’s Jake went very well for 2nd place whilst Parker jumped a great double clear for 9th to make up for a very forgettable dressage display. Before the next event Parker and I will do some homework in the dressage arena we have set up with a less exuberant performance in the first phase in mind. A special mention to my star student of the weekend Peggy Moore for conquering her dressage demons with a personal best score in the Senior Novice division.

Right now is one of the busiest times of the year at my base, Graceland Equestrian Center. We have foals on the way by our lovely stallion Libero Star which is causing great excitement but also means some late nights on foal watch. Breeding may be an expensive and time-consuming operation but the thrill and pleasure of producing horses from the very beginning is always something that has appealed to me - and the babies are very cute too.

Away from horses my main activity is tennis and my local team, the Bay Trees Warriors, play our first match in a few weeks. I love to be able to go and whack a few balls on the courts after work; I think it is great for mind and body. Elsewhere, India and I got a little dog. His name is Archie and he splits his time between Graceland with me (which he prefers) and UC Davis with India.

Next on the agenda is Galway Downs in Temecula at the end of March. This is a beautiful event and one of the jewels of the California calendar. Hosting all the levels from novice to CIC3* it is something we are all looking forward to and well worth the lengthy drive for us.

Photo of Mojo provided by James Alliston

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A New Addition and PRO DerbyCross by Ashley Leith

I woke up this morning before feeding time so that I could sit down and write about the Derby Cross experience on Saturday in Wellington. When I got into my office and looked out the window I saw one of our horses looking very agitated. Yesterday we moved the brood mares to one of our front fields so that we could keep a closer eye on them as they neared their due dates of the third week in March. As soon as I saw Darcy in the next field going up and down the fence line, I thought, "I bet we have a baby!" Sure enough, when I put my shoes on and went outside, my Hanoverian mare Glitzen had just given birth. Glitzen was still on the ground, and the new shiny wet colt was standing by her head. She was licking him dry. I called Brian out and gradually as the whole farm awoke, everyone got to admire the beauty of a new baby on the farm. He looks to be a bay, although his legs have white hairs on them. He also has a little white star, just like his mother. Even though this is my first venture into breeding, Glitzen is a seasoned broodmare and she obviously knows what she is doing. She is very proud of her little one and also very protective of him. After giving them some space while we did barn chores, we went out to make sure he had figured out how to suckle. We had a batch of thirteen adorable baby chicks here three weeks ago, the spring flowers are blooming, and now we have our first healthy foal on the ground. This is certainly a moment to stop and enjoy!

PRO Derby Cross on Saturday night was well done and entertaining. The arena at the Palm Beach Equestrian Center is much more enclosed than most arenas that we event riders are used to. It is surrounded on four sides by seating and VIP tents. This allows for a very spectator friendly program. Before the start of the competition, hosts Leslie Law and Boyd Martin blasted into the ring on two borrowed mounts in order to demonstrate some of the techniques of the sport of three day eventing. While course designer David O'Connor narrated, Leslie and Boyd showed how to jump a corner jump and how to jump a drop to a wedge jump.

The competition then got off to a quick start. One of the most memorable early rounds was Will Faudree. He was riding Errigal Lion and he rode at an amazing pace. His ambition in that arena reminded me of how he got thrust into the upper echelon of event riders to begin with. Almost a decade ago at his first CCI*** at Fair Hill with his parter Antigua, Will rocked it around the cross country course, finishing inside the time and ending the day near the top of the leader board. His drive once again stood him in good stead on Saturday night. With a clean round and a clean jump over the eventers joker fence, a five foot high orange Hermes vertical, Will was later awarded the Eventer MVP for the evening. After the ten second deduction for clearing the joker fence, his final time of 1:06 was the fastest.

The competition ran in a team format. There were five teams with five riders each. The teams all had three event riders, one show jumping rider, and one polo player. The event riders all jumped first over a course that combined cross country questions with show jumping obstacles. The two most influential fences were fence four, which was an angled hedge in-and-out, and fence eleven, which was a square oxer and the second to last jump. Trouble came at the angled hedges because they came up quickly and caused a type of optical illusion due to their positioning. Fence eleven was influential because after speeding over a number of cross country type jumps where the horses could really gallop, the square oxer on show jumping cups required them to really come back and bascule around the jump.

After the first round of fifteen event riders, team FarmVet/Cavalor with Will Faudree, Bruce Davidson, and Buck Davidson as captain, was sitting in the lead. Team Canada, with Rebecca Howard, Jessica Phoenix, and Kyle Carter as captain, was placed second. A quick break was taken to reset some of the jumps. Then the team sents in their polo player and show jumper riders together. They each jumped designated courses one at a time and then jumped their designated joker jumps. The polo players, who jumped between 3' and 3'6" were a mixed bag over their triple bar oxer joker jump. Interestingly, though, not one of them cleared the final jump on their course, a 3'6" open bar vertical. That proved to be a real bogie! The jumper riders had higher show jumps and many of the same cross country type obstacles that the event riders had, including a drop bank to a skinny. I thought their horses, who don't often jump drops, handled that combination amazingly well. Their joker jump was a preliminary level corner. Every show jump rider jumped it clean. I have to say I thought it may have been too easy a joker jump for them!

At the end of the day, the scoreboard changed a little bit. Team FarmVet/Cavalor went last, in reverse order of standing, but they had an ace in their pocket with Aaron Vale. Aaron really delivered under pressure. He did have a rail down, but he jumped the joker clean to finish on a time of 1:11, which was the second fastest of the jumper riders. Team Canada did not fare so well, however. They fell from second place to last place due to a refusal by their polo player's horse at the up bank. With double joker points, Team Triple Crown with Marcia Kulak, Will Coleman, and Allison Springer as captain slid into second.

The evening finished off with a puissance class. The winning height of 7'3" at the puissance wall really dwarfed the cross country jumps still placed around the ring. The point of having Derby Cross in Wellington was to try to introduce eventing to a new audience. Apparently we have already been invited back, which is wonderful. What I took away from the evening, though, after watching event riders, jumper riders, polo players, and then puissance riders, was how diverse our sports are yet how each sport contains something to admire. Horses really are a versatile and wonderful creature!

Photo of Jonathon Millar Courtesy of Molly Sorge - Chronicle of the Horse

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Moving up to Advanced from a Young Rider's Perspective by Missy Miller

The 2010 season ended for me and my horses on a bittersweet note. My quirky little trakehner mare, TSF Amazing Grace, earned individual silver and team gold at NAYRC, and successfully moved up to Advanced and I was in the top 20 on both my horses in the open intermediate at the AEC’s. After what I was convinced was an unrealistically wonderful year my other mare, Pembridge Swingtime, suffered a minor injury, preventing us from our goals of a fall CCI2*. She had been doing very well with my trainer, Leslie Law, while I was focusing on Grace and our NAYRC goals. Luckily, thanks to amazing vets and help Swinger is already on the mend as Gracie and I are pursuing our first season at advanced together.

For anyone that has ever met my mare Gracie, it can be agreed that she fully believes the TSF in front of her name should be replaced with HRH. I always say semi-jokingly that her ‘spunk’ is what makes her such a great event horse and even though we all curse the quickness of her hind legs on the ground I bless them while jumping. She has gone above and beyond anyones expectations the past few years, just ask Leslie about the first time he laid eyes on her. I don’t believe his first thoughts were “Here’s an advanced horse in the making.” As she was trotting around, head high, back hollow, snorting like a fire breathing dragon, with me desperately trying anything to put her in some form of a frame. Looking at how far she has come it makes her patience testing tendencies on the ground a little more bearable, for me at least. I won’t try to speak for vets, farriers and others on her black list.

2011 will not only be our first advanced season (hopefully) but also I am officially a full time student. For the past two years I have been taking classes in Ocala at Central Florida, making it easy to manage horses and school together. As of January I transferred to Savannah College of Art and Design to pursue a degree in fashion marketing and art history. So I am also bidding adieu to sleep and what little spare time the horse world allows to begin with. Lucky for me though, SCAD does not have classes on Fridays as those are set aside for studio days to work on projects, or in my case horse show days. If anyone knows of a company that puts school books on audio you would be my personal hero. This season my trailer at competitions will be doubling as a traveling art studio and havocked study space. Maybe the USET could use the help of a fashion major in help with selecting jog outfits at team competitions? Sans cowboy hats? ;)

Currently Leslie and I have planned my season on a “if all goes well” mantra up to the Red Hills CIC3*. Seeing as Gracie has already succeeded far more than initially expected the rest is just icing on the cake. After our first few shows this year Gracie continues to improve with each outing. We are already very friendly with the kind people at the AG station between Georgia and Florida. Next for us will be Red Hills, seeing as Pine top went better than expected. I was ecstatic with how she handled the one day and am feeling cautiously optimistic at the moment. Of course that will turn into violent butterflies as the event gets closer and the reality of it starts to set in. And of course to add onto the nerves my finals for classes are conveniently the week after Red Hills. Goodbye sanity.