Monday, March 29, 2010

Prix de Ville here we come!

White North is proud to announce that we will be bringing our very first team to the Dressage Prix de Ville! Our team consists of four riders who are feverishly preparing to go take all the DQ's by storm! Check out the team below!

Cindy Pordon & "Fahrenheit" (a.k.a. Isabella)- Cindy and Iz have been together for six years. They have enjoyed a partnership filled with doing the hunters, dressage, and riding the trails throughout Hunting Valley. Cindy has been focusing on her dressage, and she and Isabella had a great showing at the last Chagrin Valley Schooling show. Cindy and Isabella are a lovely pair, & will be making their debut at 1st level during the Prix. I am sure they will more than rise to the occasion, so come cheer them on!

Marian Shaughnessy & "Panglossian" (a.k.a. Leggs)- Marian and Leggs have been fervently working on moving up and are proud to be competing at 1st Level for the first time at the Prix. They have been forging their partnership for a little over a year, and have quickly become a wonderful team. Marian and Leggs also enjoy going for hacks with Marian's husband and his horse Seamus through the Metropark in Chagrin. They are sure to impress in a few weeks!

Clair Sulerzyski & "Quintessential" (a.k.a. Quinn)- Clair and Quinn came to White North a few years ago from New Jersey and Doug & Marilyn Payne's barn. They were aspiring eventers when a pasture accident sidelined Quinn unexpectedly. He has recovered in fine form and they have competed in the hunters, as well as a dressage schooling show this past fall. I am excited for them to make a comeback at the Prix, and show us how its done!

Tracy Baker & "Double Stuff" (a.k.a. Stuffer)- Tracy is a real competitor who has delved into a little bit of everything from running barrels and team penning, to competing at the Chagrin Valley Hunter Jumper Classic in the Jumper divisions. Stuffer is owned by Sunnie Hellman, and she works cows and trail rides him on a regular basis. Tracy and Stuffer have been working together for the last year, having fun and working his Western Pleasure gaits and sliding stops. They are a great team and I can't wait to see this cowgirl channel her inner dressage diva, & Stuffer show us what cow horses are really made of!

The team will be showing on Saturday 4/10 and Sunday 4/11 at Lake Erie College. I will be posting times here and on the White North website. Please come support our riders and let them know how special they are, and how proud we are that they are representing our farm!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Soapbox Time, Kids

In the past few days I have been inundated with people firing off opinions and "critiquing" other people's riding abilities, or lack thereof. I thought I would take a moment to illustrate a few facts for those who feel the need to spread negative energy into the horse riding universe.

First, no one and I say this firmly, goes around trying to ride badly. If you feel that you need to talk to your pal next to you while you stand watching the adult amateurs warm up at the Training level dressage class and discuss how effectively or ineffectively they ride, maybe you should be thinking this:
a. How brave that person is for putting themselves out there to go to the show in the first place.
b. How hard they are trying to get the horse round and through the best way that they know how.
c. That possibly this horse and rider combination has been through alot, and its a victory to just have the horse be relaxed and calm in the ring.

I could go on and on with examples like this, but I think we all need to remember that everyone comes to the show to ride their best, and just because its not up to your personal standard it is not for you to judge. The show already hired someone to do that.

Secondly, if you feel the need to make a comment regarding how someone looks in their riding attire, perhaps you should think again about how courageous they are for trying to look the part and have a clean, neat presentation. It takes a considerable amount of guts to put on a pair of skin tight white breeches and button up a dark coat that shows every donut and cheeseburger you've eaten in the past month. I commend anybody for going the extra mile to look dapper for the show, no matter your size and shape.

Lastly, I'd like to clear up a myth. Trainers enjoy riding horses to see the horses learn and have light bulb moments as much as they enjoy teaching their human students. They show your horse so that you can be proud of it and say to somebody, " Gosh that's my horse!" Great trainers ride the horses for the pure enjoyment of the success of the horse, not because they are "trying to take your horse away" or want the horse all to themselves. We are all privileged to ride these amazing animals and forge relationships with them to the extent that they will literally skip across the ring and trot in place to please us. What a gift!

So I will step off my soap box for now in the hopes that we can all appreciate that everyone is riding their best at every given moment, and that trainers are out there to help, not hinder. We must remember that we ride these beautiful animals only because they allow us to, and put up with all of our mistakes in our effort to "make them better". We need to be grateful of the owners that give us the opportunity and the horses that generously give all they have when we ask it of them. If only we humans could learn a lesson from them, to be a bit kinder and gentler with each other, we might have a much more positive outlook on what's happening in our horsey universe. In other words, shut up and ride!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Aiken Wrap up

I thought I would take some time after being home before writing a summary of my time in Aiken, in order to process everything I learned. First of all I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Boyd Martin for allowing me to come work and train at his facility. He was generous with his time and effort, making it a really great learning opportunity for the horses and I. Secondly, I need to thank the girls at Boyd's (Shannon, Lillian, & Sarah) with whom I had alot of fun and learned something from each one. Also, Bubba Forester was a real gem always willing to lend a helping hand (he owned Sandy Hills where the horses were boarded) and make fun conversation ( and let's not forget the yummy donuts that give Krispy Kreme a run for their money on Sunday mornings!) Lastly, my hosts Shari and "D" made me feel right at home in my little apartment, and set me up with all kinds of appliances so that I could make some good stuff to eat. They took great care of me, even allowing me to use their washer and dryer for laundry. You guys are great!

So on to what I learned. I think that this is a discussion to be had on several levels. First, there is of course, what i learned about my riding. There is nothing like immersing yourself in your craft for a long period of time without any distractions or stresses from "the real world." It showed me that I need to be more motivated and disciplined in my riding. I found that the fitter I got, the better I rode. I enjoyed taking care of the horses myself, and it was wonderful getting to know each one of the horses better. As far as techniques, this is where the "You just have to go do it" applies. The thing that really resonated with me was during a lesson Boyd said, "There is no secret recipe or exercise I can give you to figure this out. You just have to go do it and not be afraid to make some mistakes." As soon as I stopped worrying about the mistakes, I started riding better and better. Our confidence over bigger jumps increased, and culminated with a great cross country school the last day of the trip. As for the dressage horses, Silva helped me to be more specific, ride in a quiet slow manner, feeling where each leg of the horse is at all times. With Goodman she really figured him out quickly and got me to ride him slower and smaller to organize his body and give him confidence. She worked the half pass and changes and was able to show me how to "put the pressure on" without pushing him over the edge. She worked on my seat which helped me to ride Leggs more effectively and be strong in my core. I also was able to watch some of the Team training sessions with Capt Mark Phillips and Oded Shimoni, giving great insight into what they are looking for from the people at the top of the sport. I think I have come away with alot of great ideas, and a game plan for the next year to bump my riding up to the next level.

Being away from your family also allows you the time to redefine yourself and discover some things about yourself that you may have forgotten, or never knew in the first place. It reminded me of my strength and enthusiasm, as well as how we can let "life" get in the way of things that really matter. It is a great time to evaluate who you are as a person, remind yourself who you are without the labels of being a wife/mom/daughter/sister/co-worker...the list goes on and on. I hope I have come back a better wife and mom to my boys; I know I am much calmer in my heart.

Its great to be home, and I am excited and optimistic for the year ahead with all of our wonderful horses, students, and of course family.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Trailer Woes, Elvis impersonators, & Angels

My last day in Aiken SC was filled with an interesting assortment of joy, drama, and strange coincidences.
It all began at about 6am when I tried to hook up the trailer to leave and none of the electrical seemed to be working. Of course, I had just used the trailer the day before and everything was working just fine. Typical. Chris Stachiw of Stretch Equine Transport (friend and commercial shipper that was taking the horses back) spent nearly 2 hrs trying to get the blinkers and brake lights working so we could get on the road. At about 8:30 we were finally loaded and ready to go. As we began to pull out the driveway, I noticed that the electric trailer brake was not functioning. I called Chris and we stopped, unloaded my trailer into his (we didn't want to have a full trailer with no brakes!) and decided to stop at the truck stop to see if we could get it working. With no luck at the truck stop (note to self: do not go into future truck stops) I called my Dad to see what he thought about driving home without a trailer brake. We agreed that driving through the mountains of West Virginia would not be very safe and he promptly began Googling for trailer repair places near Columbia SC. He found and called a place called Frank's Discount Tires, and the person he spoke to said they could guide me in if I called them. Amazingly it was the next exit down, and I arrived at Frank's no worse for the wear.

Frank's Discount Tire is a brand new shop (they have four locations) and decorated like your 1950's soda fountain joint. The register area is set up like a diner, complete with red leather stools around it. Prints and life size statues of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and the like adorn the walls, and the place abounds in neat antiques from the era, like the old fashioned barber chairs in the waiting room in which you can sit and watch the huge plasma screen TV.

Walking in, I explained that I was the girl whose Dad from Ohio had called, and that the electric brake box was not even lighting up. The man waiting on me was probably in his late twenties or early thirties, with a buzz cut and neatly dressed. Everyone was smiling and making light conversation with me asking me where I was coming from, where I was going to, what I did, etcetra. As I explained what had transpired through the morning, the man said, " Oh, I thought you had a brake problem. My guys here aren't trained to really deal with electrical problems like that, but the place down the road is, I'll give them a call." I literally leaned on the counter completely defeated, and said, "You must be kidding...." He began to reassure me that it was only a few miles away, but then interrupted himself, and said, " You know, just hold on a minute." He went in the back and reappeared a few moments later with a big grin, and said, "We can take care of this...let me get your information." Relieved, I gave him my name, address, and phone number. When he asked for the keys I realized that I had Rose in the truck, and explained that I needed to get my little dog out of the car. As I warily asked if I could bring her into the waiting area, explaining that she is just a little dog, can sit on my lap, he stopped me mid sentence, and said "of Course you can! Normally, we have a bulldog, hanging out in the office!" I was stunned. I couldn't believe that these people were so accommodating, friendly, and willing to let me bring my little dog into the lobby. I collected Rose, handed them the keys, and promptly seated myself, dog, purse and computer down in the waiting area.

If you have ever been to the south, you would know that everybody there treats you like you have been friends for a hundred years. Perfect strangers strike up engaging conversations, and this place was no different. I seated myself a few places away from a middle aged lady, who of course was enamoured with Rose. Soon after, another lady walked in and sat right next to me. She reminded me so much of my sister in law's mother... quite the gentile, southern belle. She was probably somewhere in her late fifties, with salon perfect curls that fell just above her shoulders, and a sweet way about her. I told her all about Rose and my exciting morning, and she related to it by telling me all about how she was dog sitting for her neighbor. We were having a lovely chat when the most unlikely thing happened, in walked an Elvis impersonator.

Elvis impersonators are always so interesting to me.... I once dated a guy whose Dad was in an Elvis impersontor's band, and all the people take this stuff very seriously. This guy was no different. He stayed in character the whole time as he made rounds talking with the employees, and customers. He was dressed all in black with shades, rings, and cologne. He came over and started talking to Rose (she was sitting on my lap), petting her on the head, and then he began to sing to her. He cupped her tiny head in his hands and she started licking his wrist as he sang to her, and she closed her eyes. She was in seventh heaven. It was so bizarre. I thought, " When I tell people this story, no one is ever going to believe that this happened." When he was done singing he took his shades off and asked if he could give her a kiss! He smooched Rose on the nose, and in his best Elvis drawl, told me, " Ma'am, you have a nice day." I was smiling so big with astonishment at the entire scene that by this point my cheeks were hurting and my eyes were watering. Incredulous, I looked at the sweet lady next to me, speechless, and she said, " They just have the nicest people here. You sure found the best place to be honey."

Several other people stopped to talk to Rose and I, and one nice man who raised Boston's and reminded me of my Dad offeredto buy me lunch at the place next door. I declined and a real southern gal (think Kathy Bates in a mumu) sat down and was talking a blue streak. Shortly thereafter the technician came out to say he was done, and explained that the auxiliary brake box either needed a new battery or had a short on the trailer, and kept shorting out all the electric. He left it disconnected and told me he had to replace a circuit breaker and some other thing. He showed me that all the lights were working as well as the regular trailer brake, and I was ready to get under way. I went back inside to pay, and the man that had been helping me was on the phone. The guy next to him said, " Ok...that's going to be $300." I smiled and started to hand him my credit card, and he said, " Oh no! I'm kidding! Jeremy will take care of you in a minute." He came around from behind the counter and started telling me how he liked Boston Terriers, that his bull dog was usually hanging out, and how it was too bad he wasn't here today to meet Rose. Clearly, Rose was a real celebrity. Jeremy finished up his call, and was ready to ring me out. I said, " I can't thank you guys enough. There is no place in Ohio where I would have been able to bring my dog in, and everyone here is so nice. How much do I owe you?" Jeremy leaned across the counter, arms folded, and said, " You don't owe me a thing." I said, " Oh no, seriously you can't do that! What about the guy out there," He interrupted me and said, "Don't you worry, I will take care of him. You are fine. You just get home safe." I started thanking him profusely, and he handed me his card and said, " If you ever need anything again, don't hesitate to give us a call." Without looking at the card I stuffed it in my purse, said thank you for probably the hundredth time, and walked out to the car.

I decided it would be smart to top off the gas tank before getting back on the highway so that I could just drive for awhile, as by now it was 12:30, and I still had a good 12 hr drive ahead of me. As I was filling the gas tank, I thought, "Boy, I don't even know that guy's name." When the other cashier had said that "Jeremy will help you in a minute," I hadn't clearly understood if he said Jeremy, or Jaime. I pulled the card out of my purse to see, and read, "Jeremy Angel." I read it again, hardly believing my eyes. "Jeremy ANGEL?" I sat down in the driver's seat and tears started to well up in my eyes. I was stunned. I immediately said, "Thank you God for taking care of me." After taking another minute to process what had transpired over the last few hours, I picked up the cell phone and called my Dad. When he answered I said, " Well, I am back on the road, and you are never going to believe the story I am about to tell you." As I told him the events of Frank's Discount Tires, he started laughing that laugh that only knowing fathers can do. When I was done and had told him Jeremy's name, he said through a teary voice, "God is good. God is so Goood!"

I wonder now if I went back to exit 58 in Lexington SC, if Frank's would still be there with a guy named Jeremy ANGEL at the cash wrap, or if I have been in a strange stream of consciousness like the movie, "Its a Wonderful Life!"
I would like to think that it really is there, and that Angels come into our lives when we least expect it.

Side note: I made it to the barn at 12:30 to check the horses, and home at 2am, thanking God for the most inspiring & amazing journey.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sunny Days

Aiken is truly a lovely place to be as spring comes upon us. The sun is out almost everyday, and all the little birds, squirrels and other assorted creatures are bustling about. I saw a huge flock of wild turkeys, a fox, and some beautiful ducks with coloring like I have never seen.

The horses are loving it too, as evidenced by the photos of Leggs and Goodman basking in the sun. They have become fast friends as they share their fence line, and hang out together all day in one corner of the pasture, making Z very jealous. This was an unusual sight, to see both horses laying down in the middle of the day for a little nap.

As things begin to wind down, it is hard to reconcile going back to snow and cold. This week will bring one more cross country school and then we are homeward bound on Thursday. It is amazing how fast a month can just fly by. Where does the time go?

On a side note, thank you to all of our friends who have shown soooo much support and love in the last few days as we await word from my sister Mary who was in Chile during the earthquake. She is suppposedly safe, far south from the epicenter, but we cant wait to actualy hear her voice to know that she is alright. Best wishes to all!