Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On the Road Again!

Once again, I am on a pilgrimage to Lexington for the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event!

I first began this pilgrimage to the pinnacle of Eventing five years ago in 2005, when I had recently gotten tenure at TTU and planned my sabbatical around “visiting my brother” who lives in Paris, KY, just 30 minutes from the Kentucky Horse Park…the home of the only four star event in the United States. I hoped to serve as a fence judge, so I could not just *watch*, but actually *participate* in this hallowed event. I was able to, and thus began my yearly pilgrimages to the Holy Land of Kentucky.

I love being a fence judge. First and foremost, I feel like I AM participating in this glorious venture. Like the “Shake and Bake” commercial of my childhood, I stand around bursting with pride when people talk about Rolex, thinking “and I helped!”

But it gets better.

By watching the best in the world compete at all three phases, I have found Rolex to be one of the most incredible learning experiences ever.

Last year, for instance, while watching the dressage, I had a “breakthrough” as to what “supple” meant. It’s not just gumby-like bendability, but a contained, flexible energy that allows for suspension and impulsion.

Wow. SEEING that with these horses, and NOT seeing it with others helped me to understand how dressage is scored, which in turns helps my own riding.

In previous years, I’ve noted the importance of transitions, of practicing the “non-sexy” stuff, and so forth, all via my watching the best riders in the world in action the last Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in April.

And while this year will be no different in that respect, I have several things to be really excited about.

First and foremost in my mind is my new eventing partner, My Shamrock Paddy (Paddy for short). Paddy is an Irish Sport Horse I purchased last year at the end of May, and as we near our first year together, I can honestly say that this horse has helped me (and is helping me) achieve my dreams. THANK YOU to Kathleen Zins, who helped me find/try Paddy, to Melissa Campbell and Darrell Vaughn who “vetted” me to see if I would be worthy of such a horse, and especially to my family, who has been incredibly supportive in allowing me to “follow my bliss” in all my horse ventures. I was able to achieve a “life goal” last fall by completing my first ever Training level horse trial before I turned 50 this year, and I just completed my second one last week (which we would have placed second in but for a “senior moment” by yours truly where I got confused, pulled Paddy off THE CORRECT JUMP, realized my mistake, then finished the course easily). I feel like I’m able to put into play much of what I learn at Rolex with this amazing horse, and my goal is to do a Training 3 Day Event with Paddy. Hard to believe that just a couple weeks after my first Rolex experience I was looking forward to competing in my very first horse trial. Life is good.

I will likely need to remind myself that life is good several times this weekend, for it looks like the heavens will be opening on us every day but Thursday. That makes me sad, because there’s NOTHING like the beauty of a sunny spring day in Kentucky. I hope the adverse conditions don’t result in any serious equine or human mishaps!

Looking forward to seeing my brother and his family once again. They are ever-gracious in their indulgences, allowing me to stay at their house then seeing very little of me every April.

My long term Rolex buddy from TX isn’t with me this year, but instead I have a new partner, Cynthia, who I met in New Mexico while Paddy and I were doing our first ever Training horse trial. She is amazing, and I’m looking forward to spending time with her. A former partner-in-crime from TX, Karen, might be joining us as well. Karen and I are the founding members of the Fossils Over Fences. Let’s hear it for the older women!

Speaking of that, I was reading my hero Jimmy Wofford’s annual Rolex competitor analysis, and I realized that Jane Sleeper, who’s competing UN, is 60. GO JANE!! Several other women are in their late 40’s, and Karen O’Connor, another hero, is 52. Kristi Nunnink, riding R-Star, is doing her first Rolex ever at 48. I’m pulling for the women this year.

That said, I can’t begrudge Oliver Townend his chance for an Eventing Grand Slam, winning Badminton CCI**** and Burghley CCI**** and Rolex CCI**** in the same year. He’s won the first two, and I wish him well at Kentucky.

I would also like to see Will Faudree and Pawlow have a good Rolex, since he’s formerly a West TX fellow, and I’m a big fan of Leslie Law, Boyd Martin, and Will Coleman. Finally, I will be pulling for Karl Slezak to do well, too, since he took the time to show me a horse while competing at Rolex last year. He was gracious and kind, and I’m sad the horse didn’t work out for me (but THRILLED to have found Paddy soon after).

Jimmy picked Oliver to win it (and the Grand Slam), but I am pulling for the ladies. I’m impressed with a lot of the Irish horses, and Michelle Mueller of Canada’s ride, Amistad, could be Paddy’s twin, so I have a soft spot for them.

Here’s to good rides whatever the weather, enjoying friends and family, and learning even more as I watch the best riders in the world.

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