Archive for May, 2012

A Horse-Rider Transformation
May 18, 2012

WinGreen Farm is a beautiful cross country schooling facility in Rhoadesville VA.  It is owned and run by Leslie Clark, who, like most horse people, works incredibly hard and rarely takes a day off.  Persuaded by her daughter, Leslie took a 10 day vacation to visit her home and family in England and left Sam & I in charge of her farm.

WOW!  What an opportunity for us!  Our farm is lovely, but we don’t have a complete and extensive array of cross country jumps, a measured galloping track, and hills to top it all off.  So, filled with a sense of adventure, we packed up 6 horses, mountains of tack, and off we went. Joined by many students throught out the stay, some for an afternoon, others for several days, we made the most of every moment there starting riding and working at 6:30 AM and going well into the evening hours.

For our part, we accomplished things from the baby’s first water, ditch, and bank, to the older horses working out a few kinks, showing off their skills, working on pacing, and gaining polish.

But, nothing I can say here tells the tale as well as that of our student, Laurel Lundstrom.  I think her story reflects a lot of what everyone who participated got out of the experience.

I’ll leave you with that to read her post below.

 

A Horse-Rider Transformation

On cross-country training with Sam and Jennifer from the student’s perspective

Our first day at Wingreen Farm, a snake hung coiled by the farm’s entrance gate.

“You know seeing a snake means transformation,” said Sam.

No, I thought, nearly jumping out of my skin. To me, the long black snake evoked childhood fears. My palms began to sweat as I quickly latched the gate and hopped back into Sam’s truck, slightly breathless.

Little did I know that Sam’s vision would soon ring true. The week spent with Samantha Allan and Jennifer Clover rediscovering the cross-country phase of eventing was truly transformative—both for me and for my equine partner, Mardigras.

Broken Pair

After my near 15-year hiatus from the sport, Mardi’s near-fatal broken elbow and the many challenges our partnership has always faced, I had little confidence that together Mardi and I could ever soar.

I bought Mardi on a whim four years ago, more than a decade after I dropped out of the horse world— exchanging long hours working for rides for a life away at college in central New York.  Six months after my purchase, I flew over to Africa for a time and soon thereafter landed a job in downtown DC. My time with Mardi had always been constrained.

And a year after Mardi became my own, she hopped in from the field on three legs. With a displaced fracture of her olecranon (elbow) joint, there was little chance that Mardi and I would ever have the chance to perform. One veterinarian told us it would be best to put her to rest; another recommended a financially improbable $15,000 surgery; and yet another predicted that with a year or two’s stall rest, she might become a horse that could live at pasture peacefully or maybe even be ridden leisurely.

Mardi and I, we felt damaged. Mardi had evented to the preliminary level. Quick on her feet and a pretty mover, she was far too much of an athlete to fade into field life. After two years of rehab and a year of getting her fit again, we proved those vets wrong.  She has been sound for almost a year now and started over fences about six months ago. With instruction from Sam and Jennifer, our flatwork has become decent, but we have struggled to meet fences with ease and organization, and for fear of a crash, have not dared to embark on the cross-country phase of eventing.

Always goal-oriented, I have far-fetched dreams of successfully riding Mardi to her potential, a dream that never seemed a reality—until our week at WinGreen.

Full Circle

We spent our first hours at WinGreen organizing the six horses we had brought along – setting up stalls, tack, schedules, feed. I was immediately reminded of what I had once thought I was meant to do and of the life commitment horses really are.

Once we were set up, I received my first lesson on Mardi. We began by trotting and cantering a circle in a large, open field. As is commonplace when we are outside of the ring, Mardi popped her shoulder, evaded my leg, crow-hopped and turned our circle into more of a star. Sam instructed me to increase the bend, remain steady with my outside aids, look with intention at our path, and to sit up and ride. With increasingly clear aids, our star-shaped path folded itself back into a circle.

I took these same instructions, and we started over fences. With a horse ever wanting to grab the bit, run at full-speed and launch herself from a long spot, Sam urged me to keep Mardi in front of my leg and to ride her every step of the way to the base of the jump. At first with difficulty and then with increasing ease, our arrival to the cross-country fences became more organized and rhythmic. Like Sam, I exercised patience and focus – two main tenets of instruction at Allan & Clover Sporthorses.

With each day hacking and receiving intermittent instruction over cross-country fences, Mardi and I transformed from two separate athletes into a team. First starting over 18” logs, by the end of our week at Wingreen we approached training-level fences and even some preliminary questions with confidence. Ditches, banks, skinny jumps, water, trekheners, up-hills and down-hills were taken in stride. I went from holding my breath to breathing at each stride. I went from garbling my guidance as a rider to guiding Mardi clearly around WinGreen’s cross-country courses. I went from a world of lost confidence to a world of many possibilities. I enjoyed my last ride on Mardi at WinGreen, hacking out on a loose rein.

On the Ground

When I wasn’t riding myself, I had the opportunity to watch Sam and Jennifer at work. They rode their own competitive mounts, and they brought along the greener crew. I watched as young horses tackled new obstacles through a step-by-step approach that presented them with realistic challenges. They introduced their four-year-old to ditches, water and banks on the ground. By the end of the week, the horse was mounted and jumping each of those elements with pleasure and excitement.

Back at the stalls, I learned about the individual care they give to each of their horses. I was reminded of the importance of wrapping their legs after a long, hard work out and why certain boots and equipment are appropriate in some instances and not others.  Both mounted and dismounted, I recalled the physical and mental perseverance required to be a competitive event rider; something Sam and Jennifer must conquer every day.

I hope that others, too, will have the opportunity to embark on a similar journey with Sam and Jennifer. Snake or no snake, I promise it will be transformative.