Sunday, November 1, 2009

A David Among Goliaths- FEH East Coast Championship

I will admit that somewhere around mile marker 250 of my 500 mile drive to Lexington, Virginia, I thought to myself, is it truly fair to drag my very patient husband, my sleeping 17 month old daughter and my petite two year old gelding, Carnivale King, down to the FEH Championships at the VA Horse Center? What did I really think I would accomplish other than another learning experience for Rex? What were his chances of a good showing anyway, especially after going through the USEA website and reviewing all the competitors' photographs and the scores from other classes held this year. Yikes, it was like bringing a knife to a gun fight! I felt seriously in over my head. Experience, I told myself, this is all for the experience.

The FEH series is still in its infancy, and while I have heard some grumblings about scoring and the "type" of horses that are being placed over others, the overall vision of the program as a showcase for eventing breeders as well as the early experiences it affords our future eventing stars cannot be beat. Another bonus, the fabulous, friendly camaraderie the Eventing community is known for! We really need more events like this in Area 1, and huge kudos to Stony Brook Farm in Peterborough NH for holding one this year and committing to one (plus YEH classes) next year! I felt it was important to make the trip to VA, to support the program, and to give Rex the opportunity I felt he deserved, even if the judges didn't feel the same way about him.

Now, the VA Horse Center is a serious facility, far bigger than anything Rex had seen before, but he handled it with ease; enjoying his jaunts through the barns, the indoors, checking out bleachers and vending machines, and the endless parade of trailers and horses. Everything piqued his interest, and the more he saw, the happier he was to explore. I was relieved, and impressed, everything I have thrown at him he responds with a can do, no fear attitude. As the FEH directive states, "shows inner confidence"; well that's Rex, the poster boy for inner confidence! At least one of us was confident!

I had decided to hire the professional handler, Christine Smith of Wild Expectations Farm, to handle him for the class. While I had handled Rex for the FEH class at Stony Brook, I was under no illusion that I had the experience to handle him at Championships. We had worked too long and hard to let it all ride on a rookie handler (me). So, all cleaned, braided and bridled, I handed Rex off to Christine in the warm up ring to work a little of her magic before presenting him to the judges in the big arena. I took one last look at my guy practicing his open stance with Christine and, with camera in hand, hustled my way to the bleachers.

I cannot tell you how awesome it was to hear his name over the PA system and watch him saunter into the arena, plant himself before the judges, prick his ears forward and strike a pose. This little horse, whose dam I evented around Area 1 while she was carrying him, who was born in my husband's arms, who I have lovingly ached over for 2 years, was standing here in Virginia, giving the judges every opportunity to love him like I did. The camera never came out of my pocket, I was too nervous and too overwhelmed, I wanted to see it all happen live, not through the lens of the camera. I wanted it burned in my memory. I watched him walk and trot the triangle without an issue and stand again for the final look over. In the blink of an eye we were back in the warm up arena, watching the other horses take their turns. The quality of these horses was top notch, they, without a doubt, had earned the right to be there. The competition was not only stiff, the horses were huge, making Rex a virtual David among Goliaths. I was crestfallen; Rex had been so good, but he was no match for these horses.

The five colts and geldings were called back into the arena for the results, and again I found myself on the bleachers. I thought, if we could at least place fourth, it would be a crowning achievement for my little horse. The pinning began and to my relief, Rex was not the fifth horse in the group, and then he was not the fourth either. When the horse I was sure was going to win placed third, I thought I was going to fall down. Rex was in the top two! I found myself no longer sitting but straining over the rail, listening for the results. It took a moment to register when the second place number was not ours either, and only when I heard the thunderous pat on Rex's neck from Christine did it hit me, he had won the class. I willed myself not to cry, but when I saw my husband and my daughter, I just broke down. My little paint horse had done us proud, Carnivale King was Champion Two Year Old Colt/Gelding.

Rex was not Grand or Reserve Grand Champion Two Year Old, I guess this gives us something to work towards in his three year old year. Still, I could not be happier with him. He handled a thousand mile round trip trailer ride, three days and nights in a new facility with no turn out, early morning braiding, and showing in front of the largest crowd he has seen to date. All of this with hardly a whinny. There is no doubt that the FEH experience has been a beneficial one so far, and can only continue to be the foundation from which to build upon.

Eventers with young horses need to take advantage of the Future Event Horse and Young Event Horse Programs; stallion owners need to use it to promote their stallion's offspring, breeders to help sell their youngstock, and owners to help give their babies a leg up on the competition in years to come, and to build that personal relationship with their horses that eventers are known for. I look forward to the 2010 season, and getting Rex out again. We'll also be taking our yearling Windfall filly with us too. Hope to see you ringside!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

FEH- what are we really looking for?

Rex (Carnivale King) and I competed in our first FEH class yesterday, and although we had a great time, and he placed second in the 2 yr old division, I walked away a little confused with the scoring, and in the end, what the judge (and in theory, the eventing world) was truly looking for.

I'm one of those people always searching to improve upon my last score, and in doing so spent the 4 hr ride home pondering on what I needed to fix in order to move up in the placings. I'd be lying if I didn't think Rex was pretty perfect already, but I bred and foaled him, so you have to be a little understanding of my pride. So it is easy to rationalize my disappointment when he wasn't placed first. As I read and re-read the score sheet, I made mental notes on what I needed to work on, (mostly improving his swing and reach in his walk and trot) and what comments I was really happy with ("nice sport horse type" for one). Then it hit me, the last directive idea on the page, right there under the "General Impressions" heading, "Shows inner confidence". That's it, three words and it all seemed a little bit clearer and at the same time greatly overlooked. Shows inner confidence.

In the end I think this is an underscored, and slightly under appreciated directive, in a discipline where the safety of the horse and rider may depend on it. Inner confidence says a lot about a horse, and we know it when we see it. Theodore O'Connor was the poster boy for inner confidence in event horses (and I use him specifically, as Rex will mature not much taller than Teddy, and there is no better role model to have). A confident horse, is careful, alert, and interested but not fearful. He continues to follow his rider or handlers instructions even in unfamiliar surroundings. He does not lose focus or become distracted, he does not act out by bucking or kicking, he does not take advantage. As Paul Simon would sing, "I am a rock, I am an island". Inner confidence is a horse who is fun to work around and a joy to ride.

For that alone I think Rex was "jipped" just a little- he was second by eight tenths of a point to a horse who bucked around his trot triangle, had to do it over, and had the luxury of calling the facility "home". Rex was the consummate professional, trailering 4 hours, arriving after dark, showing in a strange place with a less than knowledgeable handler (myself), and never putting a foot wrong. All this happening in a 24 hr period and only his third trip away from home.

So, I'm giving myself the weekend off, and then I'll put my running shoes back on and we'll practice some more. Perhaps even try our hand next month at the FEH Championships in Virginia. Who knows, maybe I'll have mastered the walk (and the trot) by then and give Rex a shot at the ribbon I think he deserves to wear. As for Rex, he'll just keep taking it all in stride. At least one of us is content in knowing that the color of the ribbon we win today has no lasting influence on our success tomorrow.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

30 days... the count down is on!

I watched Stoneleigh Girl as she cantered down the paddock line yesterday to meet up with her BFF Tiarza, and I couldn't help but wonder if her foal was unappreciative of the jostling... and then I started to worry about her impending due date, and her being out at night... looks like paddock rearrangements are about to take place...

I am excited as ever about this foal (by event stallion, Windfall), although disappointed that my favorite pony mare would not take to him last season and Stoneleigh Girl was substituted in her place. I am always nervous about the foaling process, it is just so powerful and quick, and Lord knows when there is a problem, its always a big one. The vets' always tell me that 95% of them go fine on their own, and since we had a difficult birth with another mare 2 yrs ago, I should have met my quota already, right? My main concern is that mother and baby make it through safely... and after that, well I have all the wishes in the world...

And I am still working on a name- I'm pretty picky when it comes to names, and I want something regal and powerful, something that looks great on a stall nameplate...filly and colt names welcome!!!

So Stoneleigh Girl will get a schedule change this week to go along with her ever so slightly filling udder... and the countdown begins, foal watch central here...lights, camera, action!